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Why "We" Need Place

Last November, I gave a keynote at the Proptech Norway conference along with several other prominent thought-leaders in the urban meets technology space (albeit I was the first female keynote following eight male speakers before me, but that’s a topic for another blog!). Among my fellow keynoters was Ronen Journo from WeWork, who spoke about how the company was using data to inform their decisions “inside the building." I have to say, as a data-driven citymaking champion, I was quite impressed with how WeWork was essentially using principles of environmental psychology - beefed up of course with tech - to make people feel more welcome, happy, and productive - and of course, ensure high occupancy rates (I mean, they are a ginormous landlord afterall!). I was intrigued and asked Ronen about the potential to work with WeWork, particularly with respect to location siting, given that, well, we “quantify what people love about places” (based on over 290 urban design features). He mentioned to me that they mostly kinda knew - intuited - where they needed to go in cities, especially within the urban cores of cities. Of course, I pitched him the idea of working with us once they started to expand further out into more suburban areas, as walkable urban amenities are not distributed equally once you leave most city centers…

So I was delighted (but a bit disappointed) when I saw that the organizer of the Proptech conference (who has since started working at WeWork!), Henrik Botten Taubøll posted a Fast Company article on LinkedIn just yesterday noting how the We company had just hired a former Google exec, Di-Ann Eisnor (of Wave fame) to “oversee a team of engineers, architects, data scientists, biologists, and economists with the admittedly fuzzy goal of understanding how to improve people’s lives in urban environments.” I was like - whaaaat?! Like, literally! ;) I mean, this whole data-driven citymaking is kinda our jam (for like the last 20 years!). And we’ve demystified that “fuzz” already!

So what does it mean that We is looking to take its data-driven approach to informing what’s happening “inside the building” toward “outside the building?” As with many juggernaut unicorns (think Google’s Sidewalk Labs), no one exactly knows yet (perhaps not even We - which in and of itself is ok - that’s what design thinking is meant for), but I’m heartened by the fact that Eisnor noted that “the smartest thing about a city is the humans on the ground.” Seems like in the past, WeWork had experimented with machine learning models to help understand the “vibe” of a neighborhood - in a way perhaps meant to replicate and scale what real estate developers and brokers have notoriously done with their “gut.” They were combining data on daytime flows, home values, Walk Score, and points of interest into some sort of yay or nay indicator for whether or not to locate in a specific area. But apparently, they did away with these machine-learning based methods (although they are still using Walk Score) and reoriented their sights inward, but then what exactly will Eisnor’s team do ?

I’m not a mindreader nor do I have any insider access to We. So rather than speculate, I’ll focus on what we would love to do for We to help them de-fuzz their fuzzy goal and help create (or locate in) awesome places We all love! :)

So, We is clearly looking to understand what we have long called the “touch, see, and feel” of great places. While Walk Score is a good proxy for the density of desirable destinations in a particular area, we’ve long noted (and published research on) why it doesn’t work well as a measure of the “micro-scale” urban design features that capture the experience of a place - or as We puts it, a place’s vibe. But that’s like literally what we quantify.

So we would propose to have We use State of Place to identify the kinds of places - not just neighborhoods, but down to the block level - they should be locating in (or downright purchasing property in, which I imagine they’re already doing in many cases). Not only does the State of Place Index capture the urban design details that Walk Score can’t (we measure 290+ such features), we actually already know how the Index influences office rents (a 20 point increase translates to a $9/sf premium). I imagine understanding how place influences value would be of great interest to We. In fact, we can pinpoint what makes for a great We location down to the presence of street trees, benches, parks and public spaces, sidewalks, the colors of buildings, outdoor dining, midblock crossings and more - you know, the nuts and bolts of great places.

We can also use our SimCity analysis to calculate how places will change (and potentially evolve that “vibe”) based on projects or plans that have been proposed for an area (like the mockup we did for Amazon), giving We an “in” into a neighborhood at the earliest stages of success (which has a clear upside for We). We can even travel “back in time” to see how their current locations’ State of Place is tied to their success (based on metrics like their absorption rates and current lease rates) and identify the exact features within the Index that matter most to their tenants and use that to help guide future siting in an evidence-based, place-driven way!

And finally, as Fast Company seems to imply, if We ever wants to get into creating new places people love - larger than just the building scale - and they want to apply that same interior-focused data-driven approach exteriorly, well, all we can say is we’ve already done that for 28 cities and developers by helping them identify the kinds of urban design changes that will not only boost walkability, livability, sustainability (and incidentally, save lives), but also unlock economic value, maximize ROI, and give you (We) the biggest bang for the buck. Talk about an opportunity to shape the future of cities indeed! Call Us, We! :)

And, if you’re like We, and want to find more data-driven, scalable ways to find locations that residents, tenants, and firms will love - or want to create these kinds of places while unlocking maximum value - sign up for a time to chat with us below or simply take the State of Place software out for a test “walk” for free.