Natalie Hale, who joined CBRE’s placemaking team earlier this year as place marketing manager talks to Retail Destination about her work across several different placemaking projects within the real state investor’s portfolio, from central London to Oxford and Guildford.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we think about places, and towns and cities economies have taken a big hit with a growing emphasis on staying local,” says Natalie Hale, place marketing manager on CBRE’s placemaking team. “This has only increased the need for embedding placemaking strategies following the pandemic, evidenced by the rapid growth of CBRE’s placemaking division.”
While the schemes she now works across have many differences, Hale says the same principles apply through each – they are all centred around people: “People are the core of all places, and that is why we work so hard to make the places the best we can.”
For events teams, the pandemic was a time of consistent upheaval, with events being cancelled and resurrected at the drop of a hat and Government briefings exacerbating consumer confusion surrounding what was an what was not allowed, making it impossible for many to plan ahead.
Now that restrictions have eased, Hale says that from a placemaking perspective destinations could not simply drop all social distancing measures that have become second nature as consumers are still readjusting to the new normal: “Choice is the number one priority for the consumer, and we must ensure they feel like it is down to them to decide what measures, if any, they would like to adhere to. Places must be welcoming to all.”
When restaurants were permitted to operate with outdoor dining, there was a mad rush to gain space for alfresco dining; leading to councils permitting extra outside space to restaurants, and car parks were turned into beer gardens.
The Yards in Covent Garden, owned by Longmartin Properties, a joint venture between Shaftesbury and Mercers Company, had a luxury that many areas did not: pedestrianised space in the heart of the West End.
The shopping and dining destination, which is managed by both Knight Frank and CBRE, set its sights on creating a hub of interconnecting courtyards to offer guests dining within The Yards the opportunity to explore the heart of central London away from hustle and bustle of the capital and enjoy eating their much-missed meals in a safe open-air space.
“It is no secret that lockdown and working from home have reinforced the idea that home is a safe sanctuary, and the question on everyone’s lips is ‘how do we get people back into our places again?’” Hale asks. “Place-makers must understand consumer behaviour and develop unique methods to entice people out of their homes, whilst fostering the need to feel safe in a world post-Covid.”
An engaged community
Community, says Hale, is vital in placemaking: “People are the beating heart of places so plans must involve the whole community. When starting a new project, it’s vital to engage with key stakeholders and the community. Of course, creating an end goal for a diverse group of people can be challenging, however, it is necessary for a solid placemaking strategy.”
She says it is also important to consider that communities hold and try to reflect these within the places they live, work, and have fun, with initiatives such as greening and creating calmer spaces: “It is something so simple yet easily overlooked, but the environmental and psychological benefits of green spaces are hugely beneficial.”
Placemaking is not just for the daytime. London represents up to 40% of the £66bn UK night-time economy, making it important for the capital’s destinations to move seamlessly from day to night. The key to a 24-hour city, Hale says, is forming a cohesive day-to-night placemaking strategy with a tailored line-up which offers concepts that bridge the gap between daytime exploring and evening entertainment.
“A large percentage of economic life now takes place in the hours after dark – particularly with the pent-up desire to socialise following restrictions being eased,” she says, which is why CBRE’s vision for The Yards is to build on the night-time destination dining hub it is already fast becoming.
“What I love most about the area is that you step into The Yards and immediately forget you are in the heart of London, fully pedestrianised, you can stroll between shops and are thoroughly spoilt for choice with the restaurants available.” She notes the relaunch of Dishoom and signing of Burmese restaurtant Laphet among the destinations recent additions.
The London hotspot is continuing to evolve its evening offer, with plans for more night-time tailored series of activations. The Yards Summer Box Office was launched earlier this summer to deliver a calendar of al fresco entertainment throughout the day and evening, from live sports screenings to exclusive music performances and film showings. Live music connoisseurs, Sofar Sounds also delivered a series of intimate sets which all sold out.
“It was amazing to inject an extra dose of life into the area, and there has been a lot learnt in terms of how a more permanent night-time offering can be expanded,” she tells.
On the future or placemaking, Hale adds: “The pandemic has had a major impact on the placemaking community and in some ways, it is for the better. It has changed the way we think about places, and pushed us to approach things differently, championing each location with a USP and encouraging people to come out and experience a better designed world post-Covid.
“The last six months working with CBRE on new projects have certainly come with challenges, but the work has been extremely satisfying and I for one love to see life flowing back to the places I work with.”
This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.