Among the at-capacity crowd of Grosvenor clients, partners, and colleagues were famed former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King.
In his opening remarks, Andrew Bibby explained to guests that “we are in the world capital for NIMBYism” and asked the panelists if the cities of the future are making income disparities worse, or if they are instead poised to become bastions of socio-economic equality complete with more density and even more connectivity.
Stanford University professor Paul Saffo, noted for his keen eye for social and economic trends, highlighted the often-cited fact that California is one of the world’s largest economies. Saffo told the crowd that if California were a nation, it would be one of the world’s largest and most powerful economies.
Among the discussion topics – ranging from high-speed rail and housing policy to autonomous vehicles and land use – emerged a notable theme: “megaregions.” To accommodate its explosive population growth, Saffo suggested the San Francisco Bay Area needs to make a concerted shift towards identifying and conducting itself as “megaregion.”
This idea of a megaregion – an intricately connected, yet diverse, regional cluster of multiple counties – can be likened to the Puget Sound region in Washington State, where Grosvenor has been investing for years and where our Structured Development Financing Programme operates.
Saffo told the crowd that the major test is how the San Francisco Bay Area can start thinking like a megaregion – and how do we create denser growth in a way that is accessible and equitable?
Urbanist Gabriel Metcalf echoed Saffo’s sentiment about harnessing the power of a megaregion to create what he called a “greater economic unit.” Metcalf said, “the economy has outgrown the place” and the area’s megaregion should be a merger of Silicon Valley, San Francisco and the East Bay Area, which includes the booming, vibrant cities of Oakland and Berkeley.
But it’s not all grim in the Bay Area. “You can turn a bad thing into a good thing if you mess it up,” said Metcalf, who stressed that the Bay Area is at a critical juncture which offers the chance to rethink housing and transportation policies in a more equitable way.
Saffo said the Bay Area has lately been at risk of “drowning in the waste products of its own success” – alluding to the housing affordability crisis, crowded highways, and increasing income disparities. “Cities work because of social cohesion,” he said.
This leaves us, as city builders, with some final thoughts. How do we responsibly “mess it up” in way that positively impacts the region’s residents now and into the future?
Our panelists both agreed we need to look at other megaregions and “steal” their best ideas, suggesting this can be achieved through greater idea-sharing, more cutting-edge pilot projects, and more frequent convergences of the best and brightest minds in the real estate and political worlds.
In closing out the discussion, Saffo offered humble advice: “Make sure that you plant a couple of acorns that turn into oak trees, knowing that you may not sit under them.”
Focusing on the long-term is something Grosvenor knows well. Our Living cities philosophy embraces the idea that what we build — and invest in — has an impact on the livability and future of a community for years and generations to come.
Please see below for a video from the event.
For more information, please contact Patti Glass, Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Grosvenor Americas at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 604 640 3535.