The Mipim conference in Cannes in mid-March is a harbinger of spring every year for Team fDi, and for the thousands of other attendees from places in the northern hemisphere that are still fighting to shake off the last vestiges of winter. While corporate yachts glimmer in the marina under the Riviera sun, inside the Palais des Festivals, where the core of the international property event takes place, elaborate stands and pavilions also glimmer – with hope.
Cities from around the world – some well-known on the international stage, others obscure – come to Mipim, along with the architects, developers and urban planners who work with them, to present flashy new urban development schemes and grandiose real estate projects. Some of these plans seem more realistic than others. Strolling past the stands and taking in these visions one after the other, it is easy to be impressed, but it is even easier to be sceptical. For all the hype at Mipim, and other such events, how many of these dreams actually turn to reality? Once built, how many provide the boost to their cities that they are intended to? Predictions are a crap-shoot. Certainly I have had both my optimism and scepticism about such schemes proven wrong.
Recently, I happened upon an article I wrote in 2006 about the regeneration of waterfront areas in the UK. I visited various sites in Scotland, the north of England, Wales and London. I remember being the least impressed with a particular area in the east end of London, past Canary Wharf, where big plans were being made to use the 2012 Olympics site to develop a large swathe of former industrial land along the River Thames. I exited a shiny new light-rail station to find what felt like a no-man’s land. To someone who to that point felt there was little life beyond inner London, I might as well have gone to the moon. I listened with great cynicism as planners regaled me with dreams of high-rise waterfront condominiums, retail and business facilities, and dockside dining. It all seemed far-fetched to me, and too far out of London to be plausible.
There will be many such plans – waterside or otherwise – at Mipim this year, and while it will be hard to believe that all or even most of them will truly come to life, I admit that it might be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. Because, I confess: that remote, tumbleweed location in the east of London that I found so hard to envisage as a viable development? I now live there.
Courtney Fingar is editor-in-chief of fDi Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org