The Class of 2020 Trend Report: Key Insights on Placemaking and How We Live, Work and Learn

What does the future have in store for talent attraction, higher education and international mobility? How are cities, regions and countries adapting to new demands of mixed use live-work-learn environments? We asked Yoony Kim (Managing Director) and Lily Moodey (Programme Coordinator) of The Class of 2020 – a leading think tank for the future of living, working and learning. The two share latest insights from the recently published Class Annual Trend Report Edition 2020.

Which findings of the recently published 2020 Class Trend Report did you find most intriguing?

One of the most intriguing takeaways from The Class Trend Report was just how much the rental landscape has changed in Berlin so quickly. We ranked Berlin the top student city in 2018 for its strong universities with minimal tuition, affordable living, social openness and lots of fun.

Once poor but sexy, in two short years Berlin’s success has become its biggest problem. It now plays in the league with Amsterdam, Barcelona, London and Lisbon in having to manage an influx of talent and new forces of gentrification.

When we interviewed some of our key city partners and real estate players in Berlin, we were intrigued to hear how they are navigating the challenges of lack of space and cost of land in trying to maintain a sustainable ecosystem for young talent.

The key theme of our report and of The Class Conference was ‘The Future is Blended.’ Through our research, we have witnessed not only the blurring of PBSA as an asset class but also the mixed use live-work-learn environments that makes talent stick and some of the new campus spaces required as physical and virtual learning blend.

When we wrote of these phenomena in the Trend Report, we could not have anticipated just how true this would become in a few short months, with the global higher education community adapting to online and blended learning and so many people experiencing an extreme blend in their living and working environments. We are watching with interest to see whether any of trends we predicted in future ways of living will be accelerated in the current crisis.

Which cities, regions and countries have made the strongest efforts in talent attraction and retention through placemaking activities? 

We have seen over recent years the rise of the urban campus methodology, which has seen cities with industrial heritage partner with universities and investors to transform industrial infrastructure into living, working and learning environments for young talent. London has done this particularly well through the regeneration of Kings Cross and Here East.

Italian cities like Milan have huge potential to transform disused rail yards into playgrounds for young talent, with the potential to leverage universities and investor interest to bring 300 million euros of economic impact and 4,500 new jobs to the area as it unlocks such sites.

At their heart, these developments showcase a blend of living, working and learning environments. Too frequently, clunky planning use classes prevent the development of fine-grained mixed-use spaces that are attractive to both young talent and long-term investors. We believe that those cities which are able to embrace and adapt to new ways of living will win out.

What is the greatest challenge university-cities face in becoming global talent hubs?

Through our conversation with The Class partners and networks, two topics arise constantly as major challenges of creating a sustainable knowledge ecosystem in the university cities. The first one is the mismatch of definition of flexibility and speed of change between policy makers and the key players.

It is known as a fact through numerous research and surveys that global talents thrive in a flexible environment where they can make different choices as per their individual needs and wants. This need for flexibility became even more evident at this time of uncertainty during which the boundary between living, working and learning almost completely got blended.

However, there is a wide sentiment that the policies, both at national and municipal level, are not changing in a way that can allow the key players to accommodate the fast-changing needs and wants of global talents. Policies are meant to set the rightful boundaries so as for the key players and global talents to explore maximum freedom within limitations, not to limit the freedom. Unfortunately, currently such mismatch tends to create confusion and obstacles to innovate.

When global talents are encouraged to innovate in order to contribute to the society, the environment in which they wish to prosper should be able and willing to provide the playground to do so.

Secondly, there seems to be a mismatch of languages and priorities between key players. Even though the end goal might be the same – facilitate the global talent hub – the ways in which different key players interpret the goal to get there seem to vary greatly.

Stakeholders within the knowledge ecosystem are extremely intertwined and a decision made by one can impact the other almost immediately. That is the reason why The Class of 2020 heavily endorse constant communication and collaboration by recognizing shared responsibilities for the future generation.

In order to sustain the competitiveness of being a global talent hub, the golden triangle of city government, higher education institutions and student accommodation industry’s collaboration should operate as the driving force.

This can also stimulate global businesses to prosper in the same region, securing further growth of global talents and creating constant supply of new talents.

Which tools can university cities use to leverage their place brand?

Last year, The Class of 2020 explored further into the phenomena of branding of the core industry sector we serve: the purpose-built student accommodation. We felt there was a need for it as today’s young urbanites boast a variety of interests, a desire to make the most of their university experience and a multitude of channels through which they communicate their individuality.

The most innovative student housing platforms have quickly developed the scale and resources to create products that young people identify with, the design, services and amenities included in accommodation reflecting what students aspire to personally and professionally.

We asked questions like: What does it take to successfully maintain a brand internationally? And what’s next for “Generation Rent”? In order to do so, we suggested the concept of transforming a space (where they are) to a place (where they want to be).

We feel the same rules apply for place branding as it touches upon the fundamentals of creating a brand.

Branding is an act of creating and sustaining a brand. Brand is created at the spot where promises of the supplier side meet the expectations of the demand side. It is all about managing and exceeding expectations in the manner to allow global talents to live their desired lifestyle.

Please find more details of our toolkit on ‘living the lifestyle (available here as pdf).

What is the methodology behind the Class Trend Report?

At The Class we connect the communities of higher education, local city government and real estate and our Trend Report methodology is a true reflection of how these communities can be brought together.

Monitoring higher education and real estate market developments throughout the year, we create profiles of each country in the ‘pink pages’ of the trend report, which map out how key development relate and provide initial projections for where each region is headed in accommodating students and talent. We are constantly in touch with our 80+ partners who span real estate and higher education and receive frequent news of their latest projects and innovations. This allows us to deepen the profiles with unique insights gleaned through conversations and interviews and select images of the most striking real estate projects in Europe’s university-cities.

We set the agenda of the most urgent, relevant and important topics for our community to address throughout the year. We then identify the expert voices talking about these issues and invite them to contribute pieces to the publication.

Highlight voices of the 2020 Trend report include Richard Brabner, of UPP, who outlines how universities can be drivers for local change, and Charlotte Steedman, founder of Conductor, who writes about the 8 P’s of great placemaking. The process of bringing together such diverse stories to illustrate trends we see in university cities is very inspiring.


For more about the The Class of 2020 and latest insights on how we are going to live, study and work, follow The Class of 2020 on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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The Editorial Team

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