How next-generation real estate projects are shaping cities

Cutting-edge developments are delivering smarter, greener, more human-centric cities

December 20, 2023

As governments grapple with climate and infrastructure challenges, real estate projects are helping reimagine how cities can meet both environmental and social needs. 

Around the world, brand new smart cities are emerging. Songdo in South Korea is built on land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea. The Bill Gates Foundation plans to build Belmont City from scratch on a plot in the Arizona desert. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is building a new city called Neom, which includes the floating complex of Oxagon, an advanced industrial hub powered by renewable energy.

“New cities are being designed around a core guiding principle such as sustainability, education, or tourism, leisure and entertainment,” says Maroun Deeb, Head of Project & Development Services at JLL, KSA & Bahrain. “It’s redefining the concept of a city which in turn pushes us to think outside the box and adopt innovative modes of delivery,” says Deeb.

It’s not just about creating new cities. Across Europe, established districts such as Paris’ La Défense , in Paris France, face a different set of challenges as they attempt ambitious regeneration masterplans that meet net-zero carbon objectives.

“Projects in established cities must contend with busy live environments,” Deeb says. “While the freedom of greenfield sites brings their own challenges, not least managing expectations around the art of the possible.” 

Diverse, defining cities

When it comes to creating something new, it’s still important to consider local customs and what has gone before. “We’re tackling sustainability challenges with a forward-thinking approach that honors cultural heritage,” says Deeb. “Above all its driven by people’s needs, reflecting traditional values.”

He explains how a new mixed-use commercial hub project in one historic Saudi city, uses materials chosen to preserve the traditional iconic mud-brick architectural style and withstand the local terrain and climate.

Cultural factors are reflected with public space for prayer and socializing, as well as facades that facilitate natural light while maintaining interior privacy. Evolving leisure and entertainment norms are catered for with an amphitheater, luxury hotels and premium dining facilities.

Focus on detail

When tackling mega projects at this scale, comprehensive data and initial feasibility studies are essential for clarifying profitability and local social and environmental needs.

Complex, multi-year projects, require tens of thousands of contractors. Detailed market intelligence can identify potential supply chain issues – such as challenges in sourcing local materials – allowing for better cost optimization.

While these factors are also common when completing large regeneration projects in established cities – such as in London’s King’s Cross – projects built on previously undeveloped sites may face additional logistic and communication hurdles.

Smart building technologies play an increasingly integral role in understanding how to bring ambitious construction plans to life, “we use technology throughout our project lifecycles, for smart, data-driven decision making,” says Deeb. 

He explains how 3D scans of existing buildings are used to create detailed “digital twin” models – particularly helpful when envisaging how new structures will fit into existing surroundings. They also help monitor real-time construction progress and flag issues early, while improving on-site health and safety.

Collaboration helps create cities without limits

While many projects are government-fuelled, collaboration with the private sector can be crucial in securing public land for private development. In the Middle East, new laws have also made it easier for private contractors to establish regional headquarters, boosting the skills and labor available for works.

“The government recognized that private investment and public-private collaboration are vital to achieving their bold initiatives,” says Deeb.

This foresight seems to be paying off. Driven by economic diversification, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s construction market is expected to experience 4% growth (AAGR) between 2024 and 2027.

Deeb says it’s an exciting time for the sector.

Trailblazing projects like The Line – a 170 kilometer long, 500 meter high, 200 meter wide area in Neom that eschews roads and cars for a zero-emission environment – are trying to set new standards for urban real estate, while introducing more sustainable city living. 

“These remarkable projects continue to pioneer new technologies and fresh ideas with the overarching ambition to improve quality of life and bolster healthcare, educational and other social infrastructure,” Deeb concludes. 

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