Perspectives: "Human connection vital to meaningful placemaking"13/12/2018 by John McHugh
For any large-scale property development, creating a sense of place early is key. While many can rely on location, architecture and reputation to build a brand’s story, only by tapping into the emotions of people can you nurture the magic of placemaking. Sometimes organic and sometimes manufactured, the essential elements of place and how they’re curated provide the opportunity to develop somewhere people truly connect with.
Airport City Manchester is a great example, where our vision for 5m sq ft of offices, hotels and logistics space is gathering pace. Now we’re shaping our narrative for the next phase of the £1bn commercial property development, where 90 acres is primed to become home to 2m sq ft of offices and 2,400 hotel beds.
Further to the significant investment in infrastructure, we’re now in the process of creating a new £250m hotel district, 180,000 sq ft of multi-let offices and a 1,500-space multi-storey car park; all connected to the transport hub by a brand new £6m foot and cycle bridge.
Most significantly is the fact The Hut Group, one of the world’s largest online beauty and wellbeing businesses, has announced 1m sq ft of office and studio space at Airport City, a move that is the biggest office deal outside London in the last 20 years and will support up to 10,000 jobs.
Tangible progress like this helps bolster confidence in any large development, but fostering the important connections with those that will ultimately use them is massively challenging, particularly in a scheme’s formative years. This means working harder than ever to stand out in a crowd where a genuine sense of identity and place is essential from the outset.
The placemaking connection
At Airport City Manchester, leveraging the competitive advantage of the airport and scale of available land has been critical from day one. However, creating a meaningful and credible story for the place it will ultimately become has sat at the heart of everything we’ve achieved.
Critical to this has been the delivery of a long-term strategy for the Airport City brand that’s informed by placemaking, marketing and CSR activity; one that’s about accelerating a sense of place through activation and inspiration to help create personal connections with our target market and the wider community.
Drawing inspiration and input from key stakeholders across the region, our strategy is already delivering on a diverse programme of initiatives and commitments, from sustainable transport, green space and eco-friendly buildings, to global apprenticeships, community food projects and wellbeing education; all designed to generate and reinforce a genuine and credible sense of place with which people can connect.
This placemaking approach is key to us building the strong foundations required for a world-class business destination where commercial success in a rapidly changing and highly connected world goes hand in hand with delivering a positive and lasting impact in the local community.
FACTFILE: PLATFORM AIRPORT CITY
What is it?
Platform Airport City is an interactive event space that provides occupiers and the community with the chance to engage and benefit from a wide range of pop-up activities on site, from food, drink and entertainment, to education, health and wellbeing
Where is it?
- Manchester Airport Transport Interchange
- 30 events since 2017 launch
- 13,500 people attended
- 50+ local businesses involved
Who is it for?
- Local and regional businesses and their staff
- Onsite occupiers and airport staff
- Local community, residents, schools and charities
- Local food, drink, entertainment and fitness providers
To learn more, visit: platformairportcity.com
Platform for success
The last 18 months have seen our popular street food market, which takes place at the Platform event space, go from strength to strength, resulting in more than 50 local traders and 12,500 occupiers and local people benefiting from a range of rolling pop-up activities across the site.
Establishing such a successful benefit requires continual improvement as it grows, and focus groups with stakeholders are key to this. One such consultation helped inspire our commitment to becoming the first single-use-plastic-free street food event in the UK, with innovative plant-based eco-packaging and catering equipment replacing all single-use plastic equivalents.
As part of this evolution, we’ve also been able to work with local partners to take our street food offer into the community with our inaugural on-tour event being held in Wythenshawe town centre. Here, visitors were able to enjoy food, drink and live entertainment, as well as having the opportunity to engage with us and learn more about the project.
Beyond the pop-ups
While pop-up food is very much on trend, we’ve also been working hard in a range of other areas to help establish Airport City as a place for business success. Part of this has been delivering our Wisdom Wednesdays breakfast events. Focused on thought leadership, education and talks we have featured a range of speakers covering topics from the future of the workplace to the design economy.
Health and wellbeing are high on our agenda too, with local occupiers being able to take advantage of a series of boot camp and boxercise classes on site. As part of our commitment to promoting cycling, we’re working with British Cycling and Transport for Greater Manchester through the provision of bike hubs, maintenance workshops and cycle way development. Most notably, our Enterprise Way Community Ride gave 150 cyclists of all ages the unique opportunity to ride around a 1km loop on a major piece of infrastructure prior to its opening.
Start at the end user
Activity like this is valuable in shaping people’s positive perceptions, particularly when backed up with the credible delivery of planning, infrastructure and deals. But it is important to employ new and smarter ways of generating a sense of place and the fundamental needs of the end user must shape these.
Trends and habits play a vital role and the pressure on developments to meet the increasingly high expectations of current and future generations should not be underestimated. The industry also needs to be mindful of the influence creating new places can have on the local and global community, ensuring our actions can have a positive and lasting impact that resonates far beyond the places we create.
This is why developers should never rely on the arrival of occupiers to create a sense of place on their behalf. Now, more than ever, it’s important for developers to shift their focus towards proactive and meaningful placemaking delivery to help generate a genuine appetite for those places to come. Just as we have done at Airport City Manchester, only by doing so is it possible to develop the essential connections people have with them; ones that are vital to any development’s success.