This is Owen from http://www.thecircushouse.co.uk/ Owen wanted to start Manchester’s first circus training school. He needed a place to experiment, to test the business model and determine the level of interest from the community.
3Space, working with JJB Sports, unlocked an otherwise empty retail warehouse in Manchester. Owen used the space to beta test the circus school, he was also able to collaborate with other local groups, such as the Manchester Parkour/Free running training group. There is a great video of them in action on youtube, along with a report from Bloomberg news. After 10 months the building was returned the owner. However during this time Circus House had successfully tested the concept. They have since moved to another building in Manchester and Circus House is still going strongly today.
Apply Owen’s story of experimentation within the broader context of cities. Massive population increase in cities, they are the engines for growth
But as they grow they can also become inhospitable places, and be almost hostile to their inhabitants, especially to those on lower incomes.
We’ve all seen this, with gentrification comes rising rents pushing out small and more experimental businesses
As cities grow they can also displace the creative core. Loss of the ‘wonderful urban tribes’ which made the location such an attractive place to live and work.
A big part of why we want to live in cities is because of the diversity. Once this creativity and diversity is lost, it is very difficult to re-build or re-create an authentic version. Top down attempts at this often fail.
To be truly sustainable cities need to both protect, as well as conjure up creativity, diversity and experimentation. The City of London needs Shoreditch, just like Wall Street needs Lower East Side. They need each other to create livable places, which attract talent and innovation. Global cities compete with one another on this basis. Even Singapore and Dubai have realised they can’t just build condos and shopping malls.
The solution to this problem is in the billions of value which is trapped within the existing physical infrastructure – empty commercial property. It’s already there. Value that has been impossible or difficult to access through commercial channels.
Commercial channels work to find long terms tenants at a benchmark rent. Or for a developer it’s about buying enough property to make a bigger building. Common practice is to continue with these strategies, even if it takes years. It is nobody’s business in the property industry to look at the wasted interim value.
Meanwhile use allows this traditional property strategy to continue, working within the system. It is a leasing structure which allows for non-commercial activity and for the building to be returned at short notice. Non-commercial activity does not erode asset value.
Empty courtroom awaiting redevelopment to high end offices
Empty shop leased by a retailer closing stores
Empty floor unable to be let in a multi tenanted office building
Temporary co-working hubs and places for collaboration
Non-commercial use provides a place for experimentation (and collaboration)
Costs to hold property – insurance, rates, security, maintenance etc In the longer term, not finding a new tenant has an impact on surrounding location/businesses and begins to erode economic value.
Around the world corporations, pension funds and large retailers are the biggest leaseholders of empty commercial property. There is an opportunity for consumer facing brands to benefit by partnering with Meanwhile Use providers and opening up their property to deliver on wider objectives. For example if a high street bank had empty property it could work with a Meanwhile Use organisation to provide a temporary co-working space to support entrepreneurs. This is similar to how GE has collaborated with Quirky, it has offered its under-utilised assets (in this case patents which it can’t use) to the public to develop new products.
As part of a shift towards the sharing economy, corporations are beginning to open up their idle assets to the benefit of their customers and the wider community. As competitors start to do this, those corporations who aren’t seen to be contributing, will be left behind. Just like the environmental movement, doing good only got so far and only began to resonate in the boardroom when it started saving costs or adding value. In a similar way social value will become more prominent through the continual demands from consumers for greater sharing and collaboration.
In the longer term non-commercial activity can have a huge impact on surrounding property values. A great example of this is the High Line in New York. Pockets of non-commercial activity within otherwise empty buildings could bring similar results. Improving the livability and diversity of a location can transform an area. In comparison to traditional property development, this option is extremely low cost. It’s also authentic, bottom up and sustainable change.
Value in non-commercial Meanwhile Use - for business, for property owners, for government, for people like Owen and the wider community. Strategic Meanwhile Use offers the opportunity to achieve inclusive growth in cities, because even the most prosperous cities have these gaps. Think smart communities, not smart cities. Allowing for non-commercial activity to occur will be an important tool in creating and sustaining community focused cities - where people actually want to live.