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World Visionaries Attend MIT's New Century Cities Symposium

Something special happens when you get a good number of smart people with similar visions into the same room. The discussions are passionate, the ideas outside of the box, the possibilities endless and the potential for the future limitless. This was the experience at the first day of a special Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) meeting called "New Century Cities".

The goal of the meeting was to bring many of today's most visionary leaders together to discuss and debate the status and future of some of the most progressive Real Estate projects and cities around the world. One by one, they filled the MIT lecture hall, Helsinki, Seoul, Cannes, New York City, Singapore, and many more. The various Commercial Real Estate projects, mostly large scale, where not your average projects. Typical conversations of square footage and location gave way to interesting ideas and concepts involving a digital 21st century vision.

The first question one might ask of a group of this stature is, "What is a New Century City"? The reality is that you could get as many different answers as the people who were asked. Although this might lead one to conclude that this lack of definition might indicate confusion, the other side of the coin might suggest that this variety of opinion means the discussion is robust and the answer to how we may live, work, play and use Commercial Real Estate differently in the future is closer than ever.

When you think about it, our office, retail, multifamily and other unique types of specialty Real Estate have not changed much in the last 50-75 years. Most of the changes that have occurred were more tactical and did not represent the magnitude of change being discussed by this prestigious group. When one considers all the new possibilities that technology will present in the future, and the impact to how we design, construct, operate, transact and use Commercial Real Estate, it is not hard to understand why there are such a large number of varying opinions. It would be like talking to a group of people who built barns for a long period of time and watching them wrestle with the issues, many unknown, and the ramifications of manufacturing to the urban landscape.

The ideas and visions were nothing short of grand. Digital Media City, a visionary city being built in Seoul, South Korea (one of the projects on the upcoming Realcomm Asia NextGen Tour), spoke of a Media street where light posts connected to the Internet reacted to crowds and weather in ways never imagined. It was also interesting to listen to conversations regarding digital signage standards in respect to size and proximity to public access areas. These are topics that are simply not being discussed by the majority of the development community anywhere in the world, but someday will. Can you imagine the look of a city planner when you tell them you want to connect the streetlights to the Internet? You may get the same look the Wright brothers got when they told people man could fly.

There were many encouraging aspects of this conference, which clearly demonstrated that these futuristic mega projects are no longer just ideas but are actually underway..they are real. There are still skeptics that point out that these projects are in their early stages and that the jury is still out. The majority of the people in attendance would argue that technology is not going to stop evolving and, for that matter, impacting our lives. They believe that those who have begun to envision a new kind of future, continuously being impacted by changing technology, will be in a much better position to identify and solve the problems of the 21st century.

A special thanks to David Gensler, Director, and Tony Ciochetti, Chairman, of the MIT Center for Real Estate, Michael Joroff, Senior Lecturer, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Dennis Frenchman, Director, MIT City Design and Development, William Mitchell, Head of MIT Media Lab and Lawrence Vale, Chairman, Urban Studies and Planning for the outstanding job they did in organizing this event. There is no doubt that the ideas presented in this world-class event will change the landscape in cities around the globe. It is also safe to say, based on the progress of these visionary projects, that there is no turning back -- Commercial Real Estate projects large and small are changing and those who ignore these enormous changes may find themselves trying to lease vacant barns to the people interested in opening factories. Next week we will discuss the kind of features that are being introduced in these visionary projects.

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