30 May
Focus on Neighborhoods: The Post-Covid Urban Dweller
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Guillaume Sadoux, Development director at ADG group, shares his thoughts on how to create striving meeting places with and for real people in a megalopolis like Moscow.

We often hear and read that Covid accelerated the so-called «transition», strengthened the “trends” of all kinds. The transition involves changing embodied world, made of human beings, to an impersonal set of “id’s” or “profiles”. And speaking of trends, it is worth emphasizing the digitalization of processes: everything has moved online – schools, doctor visits, hobbies. Are these the trends Covid accelerated? Is this the “Transition” it helped? It all sounds like “a great reset” instead… But who really wants global stakeholders to manage and improve the world we live in?...

Instead, we believe Covid surely slowed down our life. Despite – or thanks to – many measures aimed at “isolating” people from each-others in order to protect them from a global virus, we experienced a greater and deeper need for social bounds, discovered a slower pace of life, with a different Time/Space balance. Our connection to our neighborhoods changed, giving a different meaning to the “Local”: Local not only in terms of distance, but as well in terms of time. And we still are social beings, no matter the pandemic or the great reset. These social connections, off-line, real, physical, made of friendship, vicinity, mutual aid and reciprocal care, not the connections on our screens, not the ones issued from hundreds of “friends” and belonging to the global players, virtual crowds in which we anyway are alone, but these tangible connections made of real human beings are actually shaping our happy and healthy lives, our happy and healthy homes, our happy and healthy neighborhoods.

This pandemic highlighted an urgent need to re-connect our lives – not to “reset” them – to this local scale of time and space defined by our neighborhoods, with a local time value, less constrained by the megalopolis we live in which constantly require us to move out of our neighborhood to reach our basic needs. Who hasn't dreamed of working within walking distance of home, shopping at the grocery store “on the corner”, walking our kids to school “across the street”, meeting our doctors, going to sports, art, dance studios, etc. These are just a few of the touch points that most of us have in our daily overloaded agenda.

In a sense, free time during Covid has increased while our living space has become scarcer. What if this change could usher in a new era in Urban Lifestyle? In fact, this new perspective, called by some “The 15min city” is rising in cities of all size around the world. Moscow is perfectly set to adopt this new urban lifestyle.

A walkable city – new way to re-connect with our neighbors

We see many cities announcing hundreds of km of bike lines or more walkable public spaces, with trees to make them greener. But if you still have to take your car to go to work, to bring your kids to school, to buy your essential goods… What is the point of creating these bike lanes and pedestrian paths?

We at ADG believe that we can contribute to Moscow quality of life through a different “walkable city” approach: This was at the origin of the creation of the “Mesto Vstrechi” project in 2014: Providing all essential needs for a healthier and happier life in a 15-minutes walking distance. This “15-minutes city” idea was then theorized and widely spread by Carlos Moreno since 2016.

The main idea behind the “15 minutes city” is to slow down the city, without slowing down the life of its residents. The “15 minutes” refers to the territory a pedestrian is eager to move around to get his needs fulfilled. The territory is defined by the time, not distances, radically different from most urban perspectives and planning rules. The evolution of the habitants in a smaller territory induces an increase of local exchanges. For that matter, the life is not slowed but intensified, with much more time spent in socializing and less time spent in transit of all kinds. But these would require an evolution on how we plan the city, where we implement social, economic, cultural functions. The “15 minutes city” requires a shift in the way we plan the city. The car is not the measure of all space planning, but the social rhythms and times modulate the place where a public service is implemented, where and when a retail shop is opened, where and how a playground is set up, when a school is open to kids or to adults…

How other cities around the world are engaging into the “15 Minutes Walking City” concept?

Many cities of all sizes have engaged into this new “neighborhood” urban development to keep their attractivity and support local residents in their developments, from young couples to elderly people through young professionals, students etc. in a very contextual approach. According to Carlos Moreno, the “15 minutes city” is organized around 6 social functions: To live - To work - To shop - To rest - To learn - To care with a focus on three status of the “Happy City”: “Well-being – Sociability – Relation to our planet”. Personally, I would like to re-word “relation to the nature” to avoid again a “global factor” intrusion. The nature is not the same all over the world. This is what Geography is supposed to teach us, with a direct impact on the mankind and its social bounds.

Cities from all over the world have engaged into this approach:

- Melbourne, AUS has defined a “20minutes neighborhood” policy around local employment, home elderliness, neighborhood shopping, local continuing education

- Barcelona, ESP is engaging into the “Self-sufficient “Supermanzana”, a kind of “Super block” concept focusing on the circular economy and improving the Entrepreneurs / Residential balance up to 25/30%.

- Portland, USA provides Independent Retail incentives and encourages the implementation of restaurants and health services within the neighborhoods

- Milano, IT is developing sports and neighborhood health facilities, while improving digital services

- Nantes, FR is supporting working from home and independent retail, as well as health neighborhood facilities

- Mulhouse, FR is developing neighborhood libraries and neighborhood sport facilities, while implementing fiscal support for local entrepreneurs

No matter the continent, the size of the city, its density, the “15 minutes city” approach seems to be relevant to many different urban structures. Because it is dealing with real human needs and aspiration, anchored in social bounds between humans, those that Covid-led restrictions tempted to break in order to “protect us from each-others”, leaving many people isolated. Instead, these essential bounds have appeared – more than ever – essential to happiness and health.

Moscow 15-Minutes City

Given its organization around well defined “Rayons” with all its characteristics (Density in Residential and public transports, generous public space, open blocks, extensive green open space etc.), Moscow is well positioned to evolve towards a “15 Minutes City”, for the benefit of its residents.

With “Mesto Vstrechi”, ADG is developing what will become the heart of these “15 minutes” communities. But this does not happen overnight. A deep understanding of local demographics & economic factors, social and cultural dynamics, with continuing refreshed data analytics, is helping the teams to understand the local behaviors and constantly adapt the concept. For this matter, we focus on “how neighbors spend their time” rather than “what they buy”. “Mesto Vstrechi” is aimed at providing support for meaningful community life rather than consuming goods only. “How do neighbors take care of themselves, their families, their friends, their pets, their home, their neighborhood” are among the questions we focus on, while “Mesto Vstrechi” aims at providing a part of the answers.

“Mesto Vstrechi” 15 minutes neighborhood is structured around 5 social functions:

- Culture & Leisure, acting as a neighborhood performance center as much as a leisure destination with daily propositions in addition with our cinema halls and Food-Halls.

- Education, educational and sports programs for children, lectures, exhibitions, hobby classes, language courses, DIY studios.

- Longevity & Well-being, in partnership with Moscow City launched "Moscow Longevity" program to improve the quality of life of senior citizens.

- Local retail providing essential goods in Food (Grocery, fresh food, bakery), Health (Pharmacy, Beauty clusters) and Home equipment (Home furniture and decoration, electronics).

- Social responsibility, in partnership with Moscow city government, to provide neighborhood with local support from the city administration.

The focus on “social functions” rather than on “products” is a constant process: It requires to adjust the “tenant mix” while excluding what does not bring any additional value to the “Meeting place” values, such as fast-fashion for instance. For this reason, the business model of “Mesto Vstrechi” is different from a shopping center. The stabilization period, during which the place grows to its expected level of activity, will allow us to adjust the offer of products and services and find the best partners, local entrepreneurs, regional players or national brands.

With the first 7 “Mesto Vstrechi” open, and more to come within the next 6 months, we are now in the position to adjust each of them to the specifics of their neighborhood by completing the mix with the proper offer of services and cultural programs. We are currently working with potential partners in each of the 5 social functions to reinforce “Mesto Vstrechi” as a daily destination within their 15 Minutes neighborhood. For car-centric cities such as Moscow, creating a 15-minutes neighborhood meeting place is a “start-up” process, with constant innovation and a steep learning curve!

New places, new skills, long process

“Mesto Vstrechi” is a new asset class in the Real-Estate industry. Imagined 6 years ago by a group of 5 people believing in the value of Brick-&-Mortar places deeply rooted in living districts of the city, the learning curve of “Mesto Vstrechi” has since reached-out to new talents and skills outside the usual “Real-Estate” sphere. As the project is growing and developing, we meet new professionals who become a significant part of our team and family and bring valuable expertise within various fields that go far beyond ordinary retail: FMCG sector, HR, IT, analytics, etc.

And it has been always like that. When we had started working on the strategy and vision of the “Mesto Vstrechi” it was very important for us to bring the brand-new level of the architectural concept of the chain, which was developed by Amanda Levete – author of the reconstruction project for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, Central Embassy in Bankok and the “Sky central” in London to name a few of her iconic works. The concept was later adapted for Moscow realities by Russian designers.

The main part of our ideological concept is to build a business for people and take care of them, so it’s essential for us to listen to them and to know their needs and expectations. Everything we provide is based on the feedback from locals and adapted to their needs which also includes an extensive cultural and social program. We have a specific strategy for each segment of the audience and four directions: "Moscow Longevity," "Family and Children," "Sports and Health," and "Culture and Education." These directions are exactly what shapes the community.

When creating a community, we focus on leading the process, constantly integrate the dynamics and adapt the strategy. And this is what the community managers in every neighborhood center do – these people do not only provide all the necessary information and services, but they also collect the precious feedback and search for local professionals and experts who later welcome people to take part in activities, lectures and discussions. Everything is very much localized: it makes the entire process more efficient and brings this neighborhood vibe, contributing to Moscow unique “flavor”.

To build a community, we also use the "Mesto Vstrechi" app, where you can get personalized offers, all the information about events and even order delivery of goods and services from the neighborhood center. The app is also a platform for building a loyalty program in a new, modified way – as we all know, typical loyalty programs do not work today, and it is all about community again. The app helps us to get more information about the habits of our consumers, analyze it and share with the tenants, so that we could develop together and become even more successful and local-centered.

Blurring borders

We definitely see “Mesto Vstrechi” as a gathering place for neighbors, their second home, the place you want to invite your best friends to. In order to support this ambition, we again are moving out of the usual paths of “Real Estate” development. We are currently developing the “digital” backbone of “Mesto Vstrechi”, aimed at facilitating the engagement of partners and neighbors in the daily life.

We introduce CRM technology and effective methods of collecting feedback into our daily work. One of the tools I mentioned above – the "Mesto Vstrechi" app – helps us with this. We use it to build the loyalty by offering personalized content, alerting users about upcoming events and track the behavior patterns. The latter is important for efficient collaboration with our tenants. By collecting all the information in one place, we can help our partners with developing or adapting the concept of their stores and services. Moreover, we are regularly implementing various research to get to know locals even better, improve our project and meet customers’ needs on another level.

“Mesto Vstrechi” is a user-centric place, focusing indifferently at the B2B and the B2C usual approaches. We believe instead in the “Neighborhood stakeholders” approach: everyone has something valuable to bring to the local communities. We will use technology to blur the borders between the usual “Tenants” of the Real estate and our guests, to create what we believe will improve the quality of thousands of Muscovites’ life.

The article was published in SCRussia magazine, May 2021

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About the project

We reconstruct over 30 soviet movie theatres in densely populated urban areas of Moscow, transforming them into modern neighbourhood centres — the meeting places for business and customers. We aim at creating a comfortable environment with qualitative shopping and leisure opportunities at the doorstep of 10 million Muscovites, living in between of the Third Ring Road and Moscow Ring Road.