Monday, October 29, 2007

Next Generation Thinking

Local leadership - and perspective - are critical to foster our creative class. Creative communities work because they are a unique mix of the best of what’s local. It’s simply a non-negotiable part of the process. To take a template approach to how we nurture and grow our entrepreneurs, creative thinkers and technology community is to create a vanilla, soulless, and unsustainable Stepford place. A point of view on real estate in general was published today in the Orlando Sentinel as a My Word column. This very much reflects the promise – and logic – behind the creative village concept. See the column from Orlando native Craig Ustler here and below.

City centers: Next-generation real estate

The real-estate market is tough right now. Much has been written regarding the effect of the market downturn. For those of us in the real-estate industry, we're all working harder, planning differently and, to be honest, just doing the best we can. That's OK. The market is cyclical -- always has been, always will be. We've been through a period of unprecedented growth over the past few years, but that time has passed.

Down periods are interesting. Often times, soft markets present the most opportunity. Maybe this market presents the perfect time to become more efficient and recalibrate our vision. And maybe times like this show the true value of education, creativity, skill and talent. Real estate in America has always been the shining promise. It is the most exciting field I can imagine. But how that promise manifests itself can, and should, change.

For so long, we have fulfilled our pioneer roots. We've grown out, into new spaces and undeveloped territory. This is very much an American perspective on growth. But this is also the perspective of a young country and, within that young country, Orlando is a young city.

The idea that the next growth opportunity is somewhere "out there" has been pervasive in our approach to development. We have built entire communities in formerly empty spaces. We have filled fields and forests with cookie-cutter homes and strip malls. And, for many years, this form of development was validated by the financial returns on the model. It was lucrative and sustainable.

Today is a different day. So many of the things we now value -- the environment, safety, culture, diversity, social interaction, green space -- are better achieved through urban density rather than suburban sprawl. It is cheaper to provide virtually any public service to a compact population. For example, it is significantly more efficient for cities to provide police services to 1,000 people living in close proximity as compared to the same 1,000 people spread across wide swaths of land. We can care best for our vulnerable populations when they are close among us. Our arts organizations thrive when they can collaborate together. The best restaurants, retail, and entertainment establishments will develop where people are contributing to a collective place.

The only way to foster a truly sustainable way of life is to dictate compact development.

There will still be small towns for those who choose them. There will still be homes outside the urban core. But we should consider how to shed ourselves of the "ick" that has crept in between our city centers and rural places. The suburban "stuff in the middle" is an unfortunate byproduct of our development habits of the past several decades.It is my hope that this challenging market allows us all -- entrepreneurs, developers, home builders, government and citizens -- to consider what is most desirable moving forward.

Yes, the market is tough right now. But the vision that emerges could be much more than simple economic recovery. It should be a better perspective, higher standard and improved model. And a very beautiful thing for us all.

Craig Ustler, president/principal of Ustler Development Inc., is an owner and developer of various commercial real estate, restaurant and business ventures. Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel

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