Lisette van Doorn (ULI Europe) shares trends and tips

Lisette van Doorn is Chief Executive at ULI Europe, the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit research and education organisation supported by over 45,000 members worldwide. ULI represents the entire spectrum of land use and real estate disciplines working in private enterprise and public service. Lisette has worked in several senior positions in European institutional real estate investment management, before joining ULI. Her network throughout the industry is extensive, and as AIWW we are very thankful for her being part of our ever growing community. In this interview she shares trends and very useful insights with us.

What is your drive to work with the water sector?
“Worldwide, we are all dealing with similar issues: affordable housing, the pandemic, climate change. However, as many of us just work in a single country or city, and the local situation is different because of different regulation, culture etc, we don’t tend to look beyond our own environments naturally to learn how others are dealing with these similar challenges. At ULI, our aim is to learn from each other and exchanges best practices so we don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel; bringing people together, facilitate the dialogue, instigate research, both locally and internationally. The same applies cross-sectoral! Looking at real estate, for instance, collaboration between disciplines is key. We need technical, financial, legal and social input. We need to bring together leaders from across the fields of real estate and land use policy to exchange best practices and serve community needs. And therefore, collaboration with the water sector is key. It might seem it’s about cities, as construct, but it is about people.”

What are you currently working on?
“ULI’s mission is Providing leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. As part of that we’re currently exploring diverse issues of densification, inclusive urban regeneration, investment and development trends, sustainable development and how the pandemic is impacting cities and how we live, work and play. For example, we’ve recently published a report, in collaboration with EY, on the Future of Work.”

Can you share some future trends, we should be aware of?
“For the next five-ten years I’d say decarbonisation, removing or reducing the carbon dioxide output of a country’s economy. Given that cities and the built environment account for significant carbon emissions, asset owners and the broader real estate industry have an important role to play. In addition to cities, some owners and managers have started to launch decarbonisation strategies and people are truly committed, but at the moment I’m not convinced we really know how to deal with it and how to engage all stakeholders. Not yet…

Another big trend is social value, ‘the economic, social and environmental well-being of a community and of society’. It seems to be the new capitalism, fuelled further by the pandemic. More and more city councils include social value in their urban planning regulation and we’re seeing an increasing number of impact investing funds being launched. However, further growth is being held back by a lack of definitions, standards and metrics to measure and appropriate manage the social value. We need more focus on this area, as it is important for companies to take their responsibility when it comes to social impact. It is no longer a (marketing) gimmick. You simply can’t ignore it, social impact as part of your company’s strategy is prerequisite.”

What can we do to contribute to these trends?
“Both the public and private sector need to collaborate, with their own responsibilities and roles, being interlinked. Significant investments in infrastructure need to be done, not only focused on transport, but also social infrastructure focused on the community, and on the wellbeing of people. We need more affordable housing, green and active transport infrastructure as well as community development and placemaking. Value capture is a useful way to approach these investments, addressing the financial as well as social business case and returns. By applying value capture, the benefits resulting from the public investment can be used to the benefit of the local community and if focuses on long term value creation. It offers some kind of reward to those who are willing to step up.”

What is your approach of the AIWW themes 2021?
“In The Netherlands we are at the forefront and we have to use our knowledge and experience to innovate and share the lessons learnt. For me it is important to focus on concrete projects and start bottom up. We have to look at the themes in more ‘soft’ programs, meeting social needs. How can water help us? How can it serve and protect us? Make it concrete, stay off the airy-fairy track. Develop initiatives and work on relations, your network. Share experiences and add value to others.”

Can you give an example where this approach worked?
“In Rotterdam, there is a project called Seven Square Endeavour, centred around the Theatre Square, in which all stakeholders participate. Challenges in this area related to floodwater drainage, need for more bicycle parking and a suboptimal functioning parking below the square. By collaborating, the different stakeholders, including the real estate owners, theatre and city council, they found a solution to re-use part of the parking as bicycle parking, last minute logistics and flood water basin storage. The result: all parties involved benefitted. These kind of projects help to optimise, especially in this era where the is a strong demand for more investment in social infrastructure, while at the same time there is more pressure on public finances.”

Do you have any suggestions for our community, for further improvement?
“Try to see investment in infrastructure including water as a positive business case; the old-fashioned approach – ‘here’s my request, give me money’ – won’t work. Look at it from a wider perspective: What is the role of water? What good will come from water? What does it take to optimise the impact? Would value capture work in this case? The case will be more viable if you focus on the sense of urgency and the outcomes. Not only financially, but also in terms of social, technical, and infrastructural aspects, like economic growth, jobs, safety and health and wellbeing, and how can all stakeholders contribute to this? Water is a tool to improve the quality of life. We all need water, and all stakeholders should collaborate to develop a viable business case, with everyone taking their responsibility.”