Last week’s Cityscape Global in Saudi Arabia included four conference panels and four special sessions of CityscapeWIRE (Women in Real Estate). It was the largest Cityscape ever and the debut of the event in Saudi Arabia.
Discussions powered by CityscapeWIRE occurred across the show, including on the PropTech stage (Current Innovations in PropTech Spearheaded by Women), the Property Portfolio Forum (Building Together: The Power of Diversity and Inclusion in Real Estate), the NEOM Future of Living Main Stage (Collaborative Approaches to Accelerating the Kingdom's Growth and Prosperity), and the Design and Architecture stage (Pecha Kucha Edition: The race to net zero cities)
Other sessions included a Master Class, a Future of Architecture workshop, a panel discussion ‘Women in Smart Cities-Leading the Change: The Urgent Need for Smart(er) Cities, and a Think Tank: Rethinking Cities to Meet Future Challenges.
CITYSCAPEWIRE THINK TANK
The Think Tank occurred on day four of the global event. Dounia Fadi, who is Managing Director, eXp Realty Dubai, was moderator.
She welcomed participants, explaining that the aim of CityscapeWIRE is to inspire professional women at all levels of their careers in the real estate industry, with networking, mentoring, workshops, and other events throughout the MENA region.
“Today we want to address some of the pivotal issues facing urban centres in the 21st Century,” she said.
“We recognize that traditional ways of planning are no longer sufficient…Our task is to reimagine our future cities and urban centres for innovation, resilience, and inclusivity.”
Mentioning some critical environmental challenges faced by cities today, she continued, “Today, sustainable planning is not an option, it is an expedient, and we have to address every aspect of it.”
Fadi explained that the think tank would follow a ‘start-stop-continue’ method, to elicit new ideas and reinforce successful strategies.
Three discussion teams gathered at tables. Participants were instructed to discuss what should stop, what should start, and what should continue, in policy and planning for cities.
The three teams were to focus on technology, sustainability, and real estate.
Within these broad topics, they might focus on resource management, energy consumption, infrastructure, technology, proptech, AI, metaverse, smart cities, and more.
As an example, Fadi highlighted challenges facing Saudi Arabia, which will be welcoming more ex-patriates into the country to live. This will require accommodating them while having historic and cultural preservation. So what needs to start, what needs to stop, and what needs to continue to accomplish this?
The team discussions followed at the tables, after which they presented their main points.
Lynnette Sacchetto, who is Founder and Proptech Strategist at DXB Advisors, spoke for the technology team.
“We want to start focusing on what is feasible and achievable with the current technologies we have,” she said. “To stop focusing on the ‘fantastical’ ideas constantly around us.”
She said there is so much basic technology available now when it comes to smart cities, that we should focus on what’s currently available and bring it to scale. This will require continuing to explore existing technologies.
This brings up the related question of how to implement sustainability and technology solutions in pre-existing urban areas?
Citing an example from Jeddah, she explained that existing IOT and technologies related to waste management were applied, and within four years these greatly reduced cost of waste management in that city.
“That was using technologies we currently have available to us,” she said.
Of course, having good quality data is key to technology success, to support digital twin applications and modelling, she added.
Diba Salam, a UK-based architect, spoke for the sustainability team. This team took a very comprehensive view, discussing ‘triggers’ to initiate sustainability in all areas of the economy.
To start, she said, there is need for government leadership and legislation in order to have a shift in the overall economy. Because we’re facing a climate crisis, she said, so it’s not just an issue of change, it’s more an emergency.
This led to the team’s main point, about what we’re trying to create, which is a kind of ‘regenerative’ landscape. This respects nature, it leads to starting to talk about circular economy, net-0 and carbon-offsetting, public placemaking, and communities.
“It’s very much an ecosystem,” she said.
Elena Boheme, an interior designer with a business recently set up in Riyadh, spoke for the real estate team. In handling this overarching topic, they saw a deep relationship between technology and communities.
“We discussed the community aspects of real estate, lifetime communities, and the humanitarian aspects,” she said. She mentioned the importance of considering both inside and outside, specifically the importance of landscape in architecture.
To bring in the factor of technology, she discussed her experience in China, where she was located for several years. Over the course of a few years in China, she saw a shift in mind set, one that more and more embraced technology for building communities.
TECHNOLOGY, SUSTAINABILITY, COMMUNITY
What emerged as a main theme in this think tank was the problem of technology, how to manage it, and how to link it to sustainable communities. A general change in peoples’ mindset was perceived.
Dounia Fadi raised this point, describing how thinking about a basic real estate decision, such as buying a home, is changing in peoples’ minds.
“The question now is, when we’re making sustainable and smart communities, what factors can discourage this?” she asked.
Elena Boheme said that everyone now wants to be in ‘smart cities,’ with the most advanced technology, and this involves very basic technology, such as how to equip every house with air conditioning.
Diba Salam added to this, mentioning the importance of ‘smart’ technology to address urgent human needs, including the climate crisis, and a shared search for technologies to help communities.
“That’s what’s encouraging, that everyone’s talking about the same thing,” she said.
The event raised critical questions and opened some key insights on the relationship of technology, sustainability, and community in contemporary cities. It laid a basis for more discussion in CityscapeWIRE and in the continuing work of these real estate sector professionals.