Patricia Brown Hon FRIBA - Director, Central.

Posted on 26 July 2019

Susan Freeman
Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our Propertyshe Podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the incredible world of real estate and the built environment.  

Today, I am super delighted to welcome Patricia Brown.  Pat as she is more commonly known to her friends advises civic and business leaders on urban change and development.  She has led some of London’s most significant City changes including establishing Business Improvement Districts or BIDs in the UK, always with people at the heart.  The basis of much of her achievement is creating connections between the many forces that make successful places and building the partnerships across sectors and disciplines which enable positive change.  She is CEO of Central, Vice Chair of the British Property Federations Development Committee where she leads its Great Places Campaign.  As Chair of the London Festival of Architecture she re-established the Festival as an annual event and it is now the largest celebration of architecture in the world.  As Vice Chair of the London Mayor’s Design Advisory Group she was behind the Good Growth Agenda which is now core to the London Plan.  Pat is currently developing an important new initiative called London 3.0.  A focus on London’s evolution over the last 20 years, its current challenges and the potential solutions.  Pat works across the UK and in New York where she has advised the Time Square Alliance since 2006 as well as collaborating with and advising the City of New York.  She was awarded an Honorary RIBA Fellowship in 2017 for services to architecture and the built environment.  So now we are going to hear from Patricia Brown on the art of creating places and why London 3.0 is so important.  Pat welcome to the studio.
  
Patricia Brown
Thank you.

Susan Freeman
So we have collaborated on a number of initiatives since the 1990s when you were running Central London Partnership; for the benefit of our listeners how did you get involved with making London a better place for all of us?

Patricia Brown
I think that the story really starts when I moved from an Urban First Consultancy that had morphed out of the Greater London Council and then was head hunted by Honor Chapman to go into the London First Centre in 1994 which was London’s very first inward investment agency that Honor Chapman was charged with setting up.  For those of you who don’t know Honor Chapman, she was the head of international research at Jones Lang as it would have been at the time and had done a huge amount of work on competitive cities so she was a great person to spearhead London’s first attempt at promoting itself internationally.  I went in as its director of information and we did some fantastic things but Honor and I used to speculate that London had lots going for it but actually its product needed some attention but we felt very frustrated that that wasn’t our role so when Central London Partnership was set up initially under the ides part-time of Jo Ballantyne.  I was invited to become its first full-time CEO.

Susan Freeman
And I think I came in about that time and you really kick-started the BIDs movement in the UK as a real focus for the private sector to collaborate and contribute to improving London.  How did that come about because the first I knew of it we were on a plane to New York with a very interesting group of people to look at how BIDs were working in New York.

Patricia Brown
Yeah well it really goes back to a guy who was quite young at the time, a man called Jerome Wymar who did a Master’s thesis on business improvement districts in New York in 1994/95.  From that him and Tony Travers looked at the comparisons between London and New York and the potential for BIDs to work in London and where they might translate to.  City Corporation backed all of that work and then when we were establishing Central London Partnership the business community, especially the property owners were saying to me ‘we want to invest in improving London’ so we started putting together pilot business improvements or pilot partnerships actually such as the Coventry Street Partnership which was backed by Burford who wanted to increase the value of the Trocadero and then Holborn because occupiers like Nabarro Nathanson and agents like Alistair Subaro at Fairbrother really keen to sort of steward Holborn’s future so from that and the interest being demonstrated by the private sector and the property sector we were on a track to really start looking at business improvement districts.  We were then invited after our trip to New York to do that detailed study.  We were invited by the then Government Office of London to apply for single regeneration budget funding to pilot business improvement districts in London and take the lessons out across the UK in order to create the mechanism in the UK.  We won 5 million pound for five partnerships over 5 years.

Susan Freeman
I have to say that that BIDs study trip to New York in 2000 is legendary and people still talk about it.  I was lucky enough to go on it and we had Tony Travers, Jackie Sadiq as you mentioned, Alistair Subaro and you know there was a moment I think we all just stood on the boundary between a BID and a non-BID area and we could see the difference and we could actually see what you know, how this would work in London.  I mean were there any sort of highlights for you of that New York trip?

Patricia Brown
Before I get on to highlights I think one of the issues about us translating BIDs to London was we were constantly told by certain people in Local Authorities that it didn’t translate you know, the New York experience is very different.  Property owners are responsible for cleaning the side walk in New York unlike in London where it was already managed by the Local Authority and so it was a very different set of circumstances.  Nonetheless we felt as though it was something that we should look at.  What was my highlight?  Well we had the amazing time at the World Trade Centre which we now poignantly stands out in my memory because that was tragically attacked a year later.  Fortunately many of the people who hosted us for that memorable dinner, they all survived luckily enough but I, I think it was the energy of the group that came from London responding to the energy of the people in New York and Alistair’s Subaro going round saying ‘they’ve got to do deals, they’ve got to do deals’ meaning London had to do deals because what we saw was this incredible deal making culture in New York; we’ll give you this if you give us that and that was sort of the spirit that we wanted to bring back to London.

Susan Freeman
Well all credit to you to actually manage to coral that group of people and to arrange what you arranged for us.  So I suppose to cut a long story short, we had the circle initiative, pilot BIDs and now there are hundreds of BIDs in the UK.  I mean just looking at how things have evolved over the last 19 years or so – are you happy with how BIDs have evolved or would you like to see it going further?

Patricia Brown
I am happy, it’s great there is over 300 BIDs, I think 330 including Scotland, possibly more now.  If I have some criticisms about them, not necessarily about BIDs but it’s about the way people come together to create partnership mechanisms.  Too frequently people go to a business improvement district model because they want to gather people together and the reality is you know, a partnership town centre management could work just as well for that agency so you are forcing a square peg into a round hole and then also, you know, just to that point, just recently MHCLG have put out a call for grants for people up to £50,000 to create a BID.  They don’t say come forward and we will help you create a partnership and really what we should be thinking about are mechanisms that are fit for purpose for the place that is necessary.  Which takes me in a way to my other criticism about BIDs which is I think took many of them are a bit samey.  I think in some cases they are run by… there’s quite a number of consultants who are overseeing several business improvement district areas.  The very point of a BID is to respond to local conditions in a commercial area and therefore whilst it is great to have economy to scale, you really do need to respond to local needs and local distinctiveness and I’d like to see more of that please.
 
Susan Freeman
Do you think that BIDs could get more involved with finding solutions to the fragmentation of ownership of high streets because obviously that is an area that we are trying hard to address and it always seems to me that if maybe one gave BIDs additional powers that that could help?

Patricia Brown
Well first of all I think BIDs you know on the plus point of BIDs they do incredible work in pulling together people anyway and leveraging money from other sources so there is an awful lot of really positive things to say about BIDs.  I think they, you know, where they struggle in doing that pulling together of fragmentation it’s because of the difficulty in actually finding out who owns something.  You know when people are going to ballet the effort that has to go in to finding owners of properties is really difficult.  So I think BIDs have a really important role to play but I think also Local Authorities need to step up to this as well and be a client for the place, you know create the sort of mechanisms that help people come together and going back to the Alistair Subaro and the New York experience, you know, work out how to, how to put skin in the game so people understand why they should come to the table and work together.

Susan Freeman
It’s a good point and as you said, things can be a bit samey but of course some Local Authorities really get that and they are really driving the revival of their time centres and some haven’t quite got there yet.  So knowing that we were going to be talking I was having a look at one of the other initiatives we got involved with, the Big Think on the future of London and I was impressed in 2012 we were I think really ahead of the curve.  We were looking at the need for quality rental for the aging population as well as for the millennials.  I mean that was what 8 years ago and these things are now obviously being discussed and we managed to take the Big Think to the party conferences to get politicians talking to developers.  I don’t know what your thoughts are on the Big Think but I thought it was an interesting initiative?

Patricia Brown
I thought, I think it was amazing and you know it was great to collaborate with you again on that.  You know a lot of the starting point from that was my toing and froing in New York and seeing the changing nature of the city, you know, the rise as Richard  Florida calls it, the creative class and the rebalancing of the economy towards creative and tech after the down turn of financial services and I felt as though the conversation with property especially was rather sterile because they didn’t really understand this new economy and what was driving it and felt as though people only wanted to be in East London because it was cheap which was so not the case, they were there because of their lifestyle choices and a whole range of things and you know, let’s face it, London were the one who really spotted this change in mood and there has been a lot of people who have emulated that.  So we were completely ahead of the curve and we talked about things like the importance of changing the covenants in retail so that you can get the different types of independent businesses in there and avoid chain stores and all of the local distinctiveness that I’ve just mentioned in respect of business improvement districts and more besides.

Susan Freeman
Talking about the parallels between London and New York, who can forget the land aid debate where…

Patricia Brown
Who can.

Susan Freeman
…yes, sort of London versus New York and we had Boris Johnson who was then London Mayor pitted against two of New York Deputy Mayors and that was, I mean I think that’s event that people remember?
 
Patricia Brown
Yeah it was fabulous wasn’t it and it was remembered really for all the wrong reasons because we had these two super slick New York Mayors who had really done their homework and one of them actually worked on Hilary Clinton’s campaign and he’d rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed along with Bob Steele so they took it incredibly seriously and Johnson arrives late having not read his brief and thinking he was going to just walk it because London was the best city in the world and how dare these upstarts come and tell him that New York might be a challenger and if you recall we started the debate with a vote amongst the audience to ask them which was the best city for business and most people as you would expect voted for London.  That number at the end after the very slick compelling presentation by those two New York Mayors actually reduced.  London lost votes that night.

Susan Freeman
That takes us neatly to your London 3.0 initiative which as I understand it is about making sure that we aren’t complacent about London’s position in the world and really looking at what we need to do to make sure that London remains in front.  So tell us what London 3.0 is about?

Patricia Brown
So you know, going back to where we started Susan, you will know that so much of the work we did at Central London Partnership was predicated on gathering great minds from across the sectors; culture, higher education, property, retail, the Local Authorities at leader level and beyond and really poking at what we needed to do to make sure London needed to remain a great place to live and in doing so creating a great quality of life and a strong economy and therefore from that flowed a huge amount of innovation, BIDs which we have already mentioned.  The focus on people friendly places and walking environment especially we did a lot on and this came around the time of the new Labour Governments’ urban renaissance taskforce which was also looking at how to increase liveability and bring people back into cities because there had been you know, an incredible flight out of our major urban centres.  So I think of that as 1.0 when we drew a line in the sand over a car dominated city and started to plan for people and over the years we’ve done incredibly good work you know, very significantly funded by the property sector you know, we’ve done a lot of good quality placed development over many years anyway and therefore you know London has radically changed but over that time while we have been focussing on quality public realm and improving cycling you know, all sorts of conditions have crept in.  We had economic down turn and the austerity which stripped huge numbers of staff out of Local Authorities, we’ve had the constant and chronic under supply of housing and a myriad of things including the tech changes and people using Uber – it’s fantastic but it has put just as many you know, for some people, it’s opened up mobility quite considerably but it has increased the numbers of cars on our street at the point where we had pulled car use down through congestion charging and more.  So I felt very strongly that despite the fact that we were going up as I think of it, the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs of place, we were actually beginning to undermine the very bottom of that security for people in London and quality of life was being eroded even though we were still focussing on positive things like Section 106 agreements for public realm.  But when our housing has been outsourced to the private sector to provide affordable homes, when people often can’t afford to actually use the tube because they are on minimum income wages or working in the gig economy, that isn’t quality of life in an equitable sense to I want to be able to think about London again and innovate about what is next for London based on the conditions that we are facing now and critically created a leadership and an agility in our continued thinking to respond to the changing world because one thing is for sure, the only constant is change.

Susan Freeman
So do you think we are being complacent about London, that London has been such a success that we think it will just remain a success if we continue as we are and what happens if we don’t get with the London 3.0 initiative, what do you reckon will happen?

Patricia Brown
So I think London is amazing, I absolutely adore it and despite my Liverpudlian accent, you know can’t imagine living anywhere else but we have been complacent and you know somebody said recently at the dinner that you attended to talk about London 3.0, somebody senior in a public sector role said you know we’ve outsourced a lot of the vision to the public sector and that has actually eroded our innovative entrepreneurial spirit that we showed so compellingly in the late 90s so I want to re-energise that innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.  I think some people like me think London is actually at a tipping point at the moment and we need to do something about it.  Some have what I call the PLU syndrome, the People Like Us syndrome which is life is great for them and they don’t understand what it is like to be a worker who has very antisocial hours and can’t see their kids because they are in the gig economy and you know takes two buses to get to a cleaning job for a minimum wage job.  And I am not looking to the property sector to solve these ills of London but there is a multi-sort of stranded set of issues that all have to be knitted together and work out what we can do about it.

Susan Freeman
So who is going to do it?  Who do you need on board to actually make this happen?

Patricia Brown
I see myself as a catalyst for this and I am starting this initiative London 3.0, I’ve got some financial backing for this.  It is a process and an enquiry which will lead to outcomes and actions along the way.  Critically like the early work we did at Central London Partnership we did two action plans, one in ’98 and one in 2003.  You don’t need policy to change things, you need mind sets to change as much as anything.  So you know what I want to do through this is to turn a light switch on in somebody’s mind or enable them to think differently about something that they might be doing anyway in order to help get a different result.  We want the Local Authorities involved and I have got a number of them already signed up.  We want the private sector right across the board and of course we will want to work with the GLA and the Mayor and Central Government as well but I don’t see that as the starting point.  It has to come from the bottom up and what do I want?  I need money, I need volunteers, I need help, I need you and you know so I want people to put their hopes, dreams and wishes in this vessel and help me make it happen.

Susan Freeman
Well you have been pretty successful in the past on changing mind sets, getting people on board and changing behaviour so maybe we will see something at MIPIM next year supporting?

Patricia Brown
For sure absolutely.  We did something this year at MIPIM, the round table and something at the London Real Estate Forum which was fantastic, an intergenerational conversation where people from well into their 70s and people like Steven Norris through to young 25 year old newly qualified architects.  It was a really rich conversation across the generations about what we need for London.

Susan Freeman
Well I think that the idea of having intergenerational debates is great because you hear people on panels saying well the millennials don’t want to buy and then somebody in the audience puts their hand up and says ‘well I am a millennial and I do want to be able to, if I can, I do want to buy my own’.

Patricia Brown
I just can’t afford it.

Susan Freeman
Yeah exactly.

Patricia Brown
And I think that’s really important this part and that’s my point about PLU’s, there’s far too many assumptions.  So one of the things about London 3.0 is I want evidence, an evidence based discussion about what it is to live a life in London at the moment and then to actually work out how to make London work better and enable the people who are investing in London to do their best for the people who are living and working here.

Susan Freeman
And you are also vice chair of the British Property Federation’s Development Committee and you are chairing the Great Places campaign which seems to tie in pretty well with everything that you have been talking about.  How does that work?

Patricia Brown
Yeah.  Well the Great Places campaign is really to help us you know, promote what it takes to make really successful places right across the property industry to get more people to understand what it takes and to bring people into the ability to do it.  I think there is a lot of people who think they know what makes a great place in the property industry.  They are actually sort of working on the me to, the old sense of the me to, they are looking at emulating say Kings Cross or somewhere like that but in reality as places are complex and they are not going to work by being a copycat so what we want to do through the Great Places campaign is to communicate all the different aspects that it takes to make places work, how do you create true social value, how do you design places well?  Convince the people who think it takes longer to design quality houses when it doesn’t.  Convince people that really engaging well with the community as opposed to consulting once your plans are already in place will help you get planning permission quicker.  So it is actually a multi sort of headed campaign in that sense.

Susan Freeman
And you mentioned Kings Cross and I think sort of quietly behind the scenes you did have a hand in bringing certain occupiers to the Kings Cross?

Patricia Brown
Yeah, yeah the famous Central St Martins.  You know I say frequently that so much in life is about serendipity but the most important thing is actually allowing yourself and open yourself up to serendipity, something that Roger Madelin and his team at Kings Cross  and Argent were excellent at and at Central London Partnership we did a lot of walks and presentations about the different stages of Argent’s plans and it was on the famous October 2002 tour that a man from what was then the London Institute said this would make a fantastic base for Central St Martins.  So I pull Roger over, they went for a coffee after that session and as Roger would put it, they pretty much wrote the heads of terms during that coffee that they went forward with in 2007.

Susan Freeman
That is pretty amazing because I think, I mean as far as I am concerned having the vibrancy you get from the students really makes that Kings Cross area.

Patricia Brown
Yeah.

Susan Freeman
And that sort of circles back to what you were saying about New York and Alistair Subaro talking about deals, people need to you know, and it is all about making connections isn’t it?

Patricia Brown
It is totally about making connections.

Susan Freeman
But I feel sometimes you make those connections sort of quietly behind the scenes and you don’t necessarily get credit for that but you know you actually made it happen.

Patricia Brown
Thank you.  Success has many midwives as you well know.  If I can circle back to London 3.0 and Great Places and BIDs even, we’ve been very good at building public and private partnerships in the UK over recent times but actually you know, they are complex, they are like a marriage you know, these things actually take nurturing and you can’t say ‘come into the room I want to work in partnership with you’ off you go and so much of what is the future of our success is actually taking a deeper look at true public private partnership.  I know you with the unclear 24.44 of really focussed on the importance of collaboration and with collaboration you know is the issue of trust and one of the things whether it is through Great Places or the British Property Federation’s work on its response to the perception survey that they’ve just done, we have to really work on trust and trust is based on credibility and time and needs nurturing so  that’s part of where we need to help people understand how to talk together in a different language, a whole range of skills come to the fore and I say about what I do you know, it’s a mind-set not a skill set really.  I am not an architect or a planner, I am a connector and sometimes a translator.

Susan Freeman
And do you, I mean, in your role as a translator do you find that the public sector and the private sector still speak in different languages and sometimes you know they are talking to each other and they could even be saying the same thing but they need somebody to help with the translation?

Patricia Brown
Yes and in lots of places I think it’s changing and going back to my comment about business improvement districts, in all sectors right across the sphere I do worry about skills and the people who can take forward this new task of really good urbanism and working in collaboration so because there is a different language, there’s different timeframes, there’s different priorities but actually some of the you know, I see sometimes it is the private sector that is leading the Local Authorities and the Local Authorities in some cases are leading the private sector and I always remind people it doesn’t matter where the leadership comes from as long as there is somebody that is leading.  So it is actually, it’s about relaxing and being prepared to listen to the people differently but absolutely critically thinking about what your shared goal and outcome is and trying to cut through the difference in language.

Susan Freeman
And I actually wonder whether those sort of skills are skills that can be taught or whether people instinctively you know, know how to listen and know how to connect because it is not you know, even if I said well let’s re-skill people, let’s make sure they’ve got the skills, some people are able to take that on board and some people aren’t.  

Patricia Brown
I don’t think it can be completely taught.  I think you can learn some of the basics of your trade but it is as I said, largely a mind-set.  I think you can be open to evolving into a mind-set but I think that also takes us to the importance of permission in what we do.  You know I say that I am allergic to the word ‘can’t’ and a lot of what I’ve done has been about challenging the people who say we cannot do that which usually means I really don’t want to be bothered to try to do that.  Legible London was difficult to get over the line because lots of people said we can’t do a connected way-finding system.  It took 7 years to convince the people to want to do that.

Susan Freeman
And just for our listeners what was Legible London?

Patricia Brown
Legible London is a blue way-finding system, the blue maps and signs that are across London which is the map and directional posts which help people move around London.  So it is really you know, if you are in Marylebone and you want to move to Mayfair, it helps you understand that it is only a 6 minute walk from Marylebone to Mayfair and then from Mayfair to Green Park is only a 6 minute walk so presenting maps so people can understand the geography of the city and we thought they were really important and one of the reasons the private sector and the property sector were really keen on Legible London is because when people walk and discover the city they are confident about using it.  My mantra was we wanted to give people the confidence to get lost safe in the knowledge they could be found again and if you are wandering down a street you’ve never been in there is a lovely shop, you go and spend some money, that’s walking wallets and that’s economic vibrancy and retail success so that’s why the developers like it.

Susan Freeman
It makes a lot of sense.  So if you are allergic to the word ‘can’t’ you should do well with our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson because it is all about can do and positivity which is what we need.

Patricia Brown
Well Boris you know, you know there has been a lot of talk about Boris Johnson’s time as London Mayor and I was vice chair of the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group under Boris Johnson and he did actually put a huge investment into London’s public realm and took a lot of the work we were doing in Central London way beyond the Central London Boroughs so you know he does understand urbanism.

Susan Freeman
Hopefully I mean just looking forward you know, over the next few years for you it is going to be more collaborations and changing people’s mind sets.  Have you got any sort of particular plan for the next couple of years?

Patricia Brown
In relation to me personally or the work that I am taking forward?

Susan Freeman
Well both, both.

Patricia Brown
I am really keen to get London 3.0 off the ground in a formal way which is going to happen in the autumn properly.  It’s been in gestation for quite some time.  People are very excited about it so that energises me as well.  I am looking forward to having really different unusual conversations with lots of different sectors and groups that we don’t normally reach so that energises me personally and I want to be able to take people into places and literally places in North you know, maybe more study trips or something in looking at things that will revive us and help us the next 20 years in the way that that famous 2000 study trip did.

Susan Freeman
Well I am up for more magical mystery tours and study groups so Pat that’s fantastic.  Thank you very much for spending time with us today.

Patricia Brown
Thank you very much Susan, great to be here.

Susan Freeman
Well it was really great to hear from Pat and have the benefit of her huge experience of working with so many developers and city leaders to create great places and to improve the quality of life in London.  As you will have gathered we have collaborated on so many thought leadership initiatives over the years so it is really good to be able to share some of them with you.  So that’s it for now, I really hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next Propertyshe podcast interview coming very shortly.  

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at mishcon.com/Propertyshe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to download on your Apple podcast app, the purple button on your iPhone and on Spotify and whichever podcast app you use.  And please continue to let us have your feedback and most importantly, suggestions for future guests and, of course, you can also follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, prop tech and the built environment.

Patricia Brown advises and guides civic and business leaders on urban change and development. She has led some of London’s most significant city changes, including establishing Business Improvement Districts in the UK and measures to transform our built environment – and policy – with people at the heart.

The basis of much of her achievement is creating connections between the numerous forces that make successful places and building the partnerships across sectors and disciplines to enable positive change. 

She is Vice-Chair of the British Property Federation’s Development Committee, chairing its Great Places Campaign. As chair of London Festival of Architecture from 2013-16 she reestablished the festival as an annual event, now the  largest celebration of architecture in the world. As Vice-Chair of the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group, she was behind the Good Growth agenda, now at the core to the London Plan.  She is currently developing a new initiative called London 3.0; a focus on London’s evolution over the last twenty years and its current multi-dimensional challenges and solutions to address them.

Patricia works across the UK and in New York, where she has advised the Times Square Alliance since 2006, and stints teaching at NYC Schack institute of Real Estate, as well as collaborating with and advising the City of New York and other institutions.

She was awarded an honorary RIBA Fellowship in 2017 for services to architecture and the built environment.

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