ReLocate spoke with professor Greg Clark, urbanist and Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute Europe, to find out more. He is a widely published author on city development and investment issues and advises a wide array of international organisations. In May 2016 he presented a new report analysing the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp. Where most analyses of a city’s competitiveness rely on economic performance, The Urban Land Institute report looks at a much wider range of issues. Ranging from liveability to geopolitical risk and sustainability, these are the things that influence a city’s attractiveness to residents and companies alike.
Brussels and Antwerp are very different in nature: how did you approach the comparison?
“We put together two benchmarking groups, ran workshops, visited the cities and conducted a ton of interviews before running this comparative analysis in which we measured Brussels and Antwerp against groups of peer cities to arrive at an assessment of their competitiveness,” explains Greg Clark. “We didn’t just look at economic performance, but at other issues that impact a city’s attractiveness to residents too. Matters such as liveability, governance, geopolitical risk and sustainability are just as important in urban life. Brussels was tested against well established capitals such as London and Paris, cities that provide tough competition. Antwerp on the other hand was held up against peer cities that are reinventing themselves – some of them port cities – like Hamburg and Amsterdam, and other (former) industry greats such as Manchester and Liverpool.”
Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.
What are their main selling points?
“Both cities have very good fundamentals, and their own, unique attractions. Antwerp is compelling for its extraordinary DNA. It has always been one of the world’s greatest trading cities and has invented many ideas about the connection between trade, innovation and discovery. Antwerp knows how to build a city around a port. Located within a north-western European economy of roughly 100 million people with a huge GDP, it’s well connected with Belgian, Dutch, Northern French and German cities on all sides. Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.”
“The Antwerp port is embracing innovation in terms of how goods are managed, how energy is used and what technology is applied. They’re building an innovative port and energy complex, with a big focus on the circular economy, which is important and fascinating. Of course, the city of Antwerp is synonymous with the craft and design of high-quality goods. From the diamond industry to its fashion sector, Antwerpians know how to make items of high value work in the market place. This mercantilist attitude means it is truly open for business.”
“Boasting a young and vibrant population that is committed to taking the city forward, Antwerp is further boosted by a government with big ambitions. From building a canopy over the ring road to creating more public spaces and developing the left bank, the city is redesigning its urban fabric to make a future-proof city. Smart citizen initiatives activate people to act as the eyes and ears of the city, giving feedback on the quality of bicycle lanes or roads and public facilities that might need maintenance. These distinctive edges of Antwerp amount to things that are quite exciting considering its small size. Thinking about the business opportunities that arise from disruption runs deep within the Antwerp DNA.”
Brussels’ youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity give rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries.
“Brussels on the other hand is distinctive in a completely different way,” Greg continues. “It is a major capital city, and as home to the various European institutions and NATO it has an influential presence on the global stage, although it is yet to leverage it to its full potential. It’s interesting when you compare Brussels with cities like Washington DC or Singapore, which play an influential role by hosting global institutions, international summits and other gatherings that really work for the city.”
“It has a youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity giving rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries. The high calibre of educational institutes in Brussels is somewhat obscured by the presence of international institutions such as the EU and NATO, but the educational cluster has enormous potential thanks to leadership in fields such as IT, life sciences, or medicine. Most obviously it has enormous potential to be a global school of government, public policy and management.”
“When you look at productivity progress in Brussels a lot of it is to do with the dynamism of the labour market and its liquidity. People want to spend time in Brussels, partly because of its influence, but then find they want to stay and do other things too. It’s important to remember that government institutions feed and support a huge cluster of other kinds of decision making and communication activities. There are very big, positive spill-overs and multipliers that you can leverage into other industries. If you thought a government town can only ever be a government town, you’d be wrong.”
All attractive qualities indeed, surely there must be some drawbacks?
“They also both suffer from a number of challenges,” agrees Greg. “Part of this is that they are located in Belgium, and, great as Belgium may be, it is not a country that enjoys a clear institutional framework. Both Brussels and Antwerp struggle to build their identity and present themselves in a way that cities in less confusing countries do not. Brussels has far greater assets than say Vienna or Zurich, yet these cities have fewer difficulties presenting and promoting themselves on an international stage. Similarly, whilst Antwerp has greater or equivalent assets to Liverpool, Lyon, Genoa, and Turin, it has difficulty articulating what it is, where it is, and why.”
“They’re also rather late to the urbanisation agenda compared to other European cities. Citizens in Brussels and Antwerp are highly dependent on their cars and prefer the suburbs to the city centre. The Belgians tend to sub optimise the use of land and real estate, which translates into low levels of densification and very few mixed-use development projects. It also means there has been very little focus on transport and connectivity as a way of embracing and spurring on urbanism. The third thing that seems to be true for both of them – although each city has a slightly different version of this – is that they have had some difficulty creating the right geographical and institutional space through which to apply leadership to the city.”
“Brussels Capital Region struggles due to the way it is defined; geographically it’s too small for the – much larger – Brussels metropolitan area and then of course there is the fragmentation of having 19 separate municipalities, which rather effectively prevents an integrated governance model. You need a leadership platform for the whole area, otherwise you end up with different policies being pursued in different parts of the region, which is not particularly helpful. For Antwerp it was more of a question of leadership appetite in the past, although I think this is now being addressed. The current leadership has the appetite to succeed and a vision for moving the city forward. It’s just been slow getting there.”
“The public sector almost has a monopoly on leadership control in Belgium. Other sectors, such as business, cultural and higher education, have not played active civic leadership roles like they do in other cities of comparable sizes. There’s been too much waiting around for city government to put things right, rather than civic leadership working hand in hand with city governments to create forward momentum. I suppose you could say both cities have become somewhat institutionalised. This is now being addressed in Antwerp where civil and trade movements are working together with the city towards creating a more sustainable future for the city.”
Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together with organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map.
How can Brussels and Antwerp improve on their competitiveness?
“We focused on three main areas for our recommendations on addressing these weaknesses,” Greg tells us. “First, Brussels and Antwerp need to start embracing urbanisation. This means being proactive in extending and developing public transport as a way of reducing car dependence. By strengthening the urban mix, you create excitement and vibrancy. Creating exciting city centres and sub centres, together with a more active transport mix, helps attract and retain corporate investment and the dynamic workforce needed by these companies.”
“Secondly, the institutional frameworks have to be right. This creates room for city leadership that is continuously thinking about their city as somewhere people will want to live and work, rather than getting stuck in Belgian politics. Thinking about public and private partnerships on a city level is a big part of this, just look at how Antwerp is involving its citizens in the maintenance of its city.”
“This in turn leads into our third point: the promotion of Brussels and Antwerp. Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together an alliance of organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map. This is certainly happening in Antwerp, and I believe efforts are underfoot in Brussels now too.”
“Finally, both cities have really creative industries which are part of the impact of the cosmopolitan diversity of the city. You should be able to really use that cosmopolitan diversity as a driver of creative endeavour. The idea isthat diversity creates competitive advantage through interaction. To realise that, you’ve got to address the challenges of social exclusion and segregation. Brussels has two cosmopolitan populations: one is the elite that services the global institutions, the other is the population of migrants who have come from a poorer set of countries in search of a better life. Somehow, you’ve got to make those two kinds of populations work together.”
To read the full report, visit the Urban Land Institute website:
If we feel hard done by, we’re quick to share our displeasure with the world. Today’s media is abound with public relations disasters such as sackings being tweeted live through the company account and disgraced public figures who said one thing and did another altogether, effectively ending their careers.
We have a strong sense of justice and fairness and as a society, we crave a more meaningful life. This means that aligning our personal and professional values is becoming increasingly important to both our success and our happiness.
So how does this translate into the global mobility sector? As a people oriented business the majority of the relocation industry is quick to see the benefit of strong customer relations, but with a continued pressure on cost and speed it is easy to lose sight of the rest of our stakeholders’ interests.
Elisa French, partner and founder of Ceeyana, brought to life how easily and quickly we can integrate our personal philosophy into professional practice. With over 2 decades in Executive Coaching and Strategic Management behind her, Elisa is actively involved with the Relocation Professionals Coaching Program in cooperation with Oxford Brookes University and has transformed lives for a wide range of clients from small businesses to large corporations around the world.
The Conscious Capitalist
“Capitalism has served us well,” posits Elisa, “but is has come at a great cost. We now own more mobile phones than toothbrushes and our world is being disrupted at a greater speed than ever before. As consumers we have more choices, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. We don’t always feel heard or appreciated by our peers. Depression, burn-out, loneliness; they’re all signs of our time and very much on the rise.”
“Businesses need to acknowledge that it is their role to serve society, and as business people we need to see opportunity in this,” she continues. “We all prefer doing business with organisations that have a philosophy we can relate to, but it takes courage and commitment to change for good.”
“Typically organisations sense that they would like to take a more conscious approach to their day-to-day dealings, but it’s not easy turning such a big ship around. Compliance and governance are big hurdles to overcome, but we don’t rea-lise how many easy and small things already set us on track towards creating a more fulfilling life in a better world.” Elisa adds when we catch up after the conference.
Most of us will already have made a start towards positive change without even being aware of it. Whether you’re recycling your printer cartridges or just making sure that you don’t print out every single email, taking those first steps towards instilling a more conscious approach throughout your organisation isn’t as daunting as you might expect.
“For the vast majority of us money is not our driving force. Whether your company mission is to have fun along the way, to make a personal difference to the families you relocate, or to support a local charity, for most of us work involves wanting to improve life in one way or another.”
It’s finding this higher purpose that helps take your company to the next level Elisa believes. “Every organisation is different and what works for one, may not work for the other, so ask yourself, what does conscious capitalism mean to you? What are your principles, what are your values and what do you really want to stand for? Tell me why should I work with you and not somebody else. Ask yourself how you can integrate this common purpose into your day-to-day processes and relationships, but most importantly: turn up and actually do what you have set out to do.”
Money to be Made
Research supports the claim that defining and working towards this common higher purpose as a person, a team and as an organisation, is the key to creating a sustainable and successful business. A study by Edelman Marketing even suggests that companies committed to conscious capitalism outperform others by a factor of 10, proving there is money to be made in adopting a more conscious approach to business. The 2012 study also showed that when price and quality are equal, 71% of consumers would not just switch brands, but even help a brand promote their product or service if there was a good cause behind them.
“These companies are not settling for the cheapest suppliers or squeezing what they can out of prices, but instead work with selected suppliers to become loyal and mutually respected partners who invest in quality and innovation,” Elisa continues. “By investing in salaries, education, health and wellbeing, staff feel validated and want to come to work. Simply allowing people to speak up, paying them well, acknowledging them and giving fulfilling work builds a committed and loyal team who will carry your message out into the world.”
Being your Best
Your purpose is what anchors your organisation. It’s the magnet that serves to draw in all of your stakeholders and gets them to buy into your ‘story’. From clients and contractors to individual team members, you want everyone to be on board so that you can flourish by aligning with society’s need to lead better, more conscious lives.
It’s the millennials who are driving this desire for a more sustainable future. It can be hard for management – and long-standing team members – to see the need for change. They are often perfectly happy with how things have been running, but when you hire fresh young thinkers they bring new impetus to your company culture. So ask yourself: ‘are your processes bringing out the best in every stakeholder? Does your business allow you to be the best you can be?’ and then go from there.
“Think about it. Only too often do we devote all of our energy to getting the job done, to the detriment of living up to our higher purpose. We may choose to ignore the fact that a team member’s moods affect the entire office as we believe they get the job done. Or perhaps you’re keeping on a client that really you’d rather not have, simply because they pay the bills. If you’re accepting situations that undermine who you are and what you believe in for the sake of saving time and resources, it’s bound to come back and bite you. It has a massive impact your organisation’s culture, and takes away from where you are trying to head. You really need to critically assess what type of a culture you are tolerating: it’s the life force of your organisation. If your company is all about measuring quarterly profits and quick wins, then this is what you’ll get.”
If on the other hand you can not only define your values, but really embed them you start building values such as transparency, trust, integrity, compassion, generosity, autonomy and more into your company culture. Values that have a huge impact on your performance and that create great, energetic places to work. If, for example, you were to look at employee turnover as a key performance indicator, you’re starting to think like a conscious leader.
Creating Structure for Growth
“When you truly start walking the talk everybody gets to play a part in making this higher purpose become a reality and becomes accountable for their individual input and actions,” says Elisa. “When everyone is seen as equal you create a culture where feedback – even the most critical – is welcomed as an opportunity for learning. Defining your values sets boundaries and creates structure for growth as well as offering the opportunity to become who you really want to be.”
Most importantly you have to check in with your values on a regular basis. Whether it’s your operating systems, your business model or your company culture, make sure you don’t stray from your path or allow yourself to become distracted by the one who shouts the loudest.
Be the Change You Want to See
“When we do purposeful work we treat people with trust, care, and respect, and restore the ecosystems around us. We start recognising that all aspects of our lives and the world are interconnected. We go to sleep not feeling as lonely and depleted, but happier and more fulfilled. We feel engaged with the world around us and our work environment gives us the opportunity to lead the most meaningful lives we can. That being said, it’s up to us to step out of our comfort zone as individuals as well. We all want the world to be the best place it can be and we all have a part to play in this. Yes you want your company to be the force for good, but you have to live and breathe what you stand for as a person too,” Elisa concludes.