Real Estate



Guest post by Kat Hanna.

To kick start the Sound Diplomacy events calendar for 2019 and to engage with an increasingly hot topic concerning the urban planning and culture sectors, we hosted Sound Development, our quarterly mini-series discussion at East London’s newest destination, Republic.

We’ve invited our event chair Kat Hanna to provide an overview of the discussion from the event.

Tuesday February 5th, Republic, East India Dock

Whether it’s the almost daily announcement of closures or the empty units that have left high streets looking like gap-toothed smiles, the need for high street regeneration is hard to avoid. Yet while the symptoms of their struggle may be obvious, the cause is harder to diagnose. Too much retail. Not enough quality retail. The rise of online shopping. The decline of community.

As any well-assembled panel will tell you, the answer, of course, is that many high streets are struggling for a number of reasons, and so their regeneration will require a range of solutions. What these solutions have in common, however, is the ability to bring together a range of people to a specific place. In doing so, high streets not only offer what online shopping cannot – shared, embodied, human experience and interaction.


The evening provided many examples of how music can help address the symptoms of a struggling high street. Dave Gray from Wrexham talked about the transformation of a former JJB Sports store into a community hub, focused around music, yet flexible enough to host exhibitions, meet-ups and all manner of events. Architects Tom and James Teatum emphasised the benefits of high streets that accommodate a range of uses, including residential and manufacturing, rather than simply retail.

But to use music to simply fill empty retail units is to overlook the full potential of music – not just as a source of demand for space, but as a vital contributor to local economies, communities, and individuals themselves. Just as Julia Jones was keen to point out the regenerating the high street should be about more than rescuing retailers, music should be used to generate human interactions, as well as just cash transactions.

Too often, the social and retail functions of the high street are presented as being in opposition to one another. In the recent past, there is perhaps some truth in this, as we today lament the passing of high street chains many communities once blamed for killing off independents. Yet as our discussion revealed, what works for the retail functions of the high street can also work for its social functions, and vice versa. Here’s three key takeaways that stand to benefit both these aspects of a successful high street.

  1. A range of spaces can attract a range of uses: A diversified high street means of mix of uses, and a mix of spaces. This requires a supportive, and perhaps more flexible planning system that encourages co-location and celebrates, or at least tolerates activity (including when its noisy and nocturnal). It requires developers to understand the nuanced needs of potential tenants, providing space suitable for both the production and consumption of music. Contrary to some assumptions, this does not always need to be specialised – as Achar Dillon of Killing Moon pointed out.

  2. Experience is everything: What high streets brands sought to offer based on cost and convenience can no longer compete in the age of online shopping. If retailers want to generate footfall, they must provide what cannot be offered with the swipe of a hand. Music may not be the only way of creating this experience, but its universality, adaptability and accessibility make it a particularly powerful way to do so. As Jennifer Wood from Southwark council highlighted, these qualities make music an increasingly common feature in social prescribing – addressing social, physiological and physical problems with non-medical, community-based solutions.

  3. Communicating value: The ability of music-related uses to animate or adapt of underused or ‘awkward’ spaces should not prohibit long-term investment in real-estate that supports the industry. This requires the music sector to focus on setting out its value, to local economies, high streets, and communities, ensuring that the sector is valued in its own right, not only as a tool used for placemaking or promotion.

As Lawrence Jones from Trilogy emphasises, these principles extend beyond the built form of the high street. Successful spaces, including workplaces, are those that offer a mix of experience, that encourage interaction between users, and that can adapt to a range of use, not just during the lifetime of a building, but the daily routines of an individual.

About the Author, Kat Hanna:

Kat Hanna.jpg


An experienced urbanist and researcher, Kat Hanna has worked in London politics, planning and policy for the past seven years. Her research interests include urban economies, transport, and the relationship between technology and the built environment. Kat joined Cushman and Wakefield in 2017, focusing on long-term mixed-use development projects in London and trends in how we live, work and move around in cities.

Kat regularly appears as a commentator on urban affairs across a range of publications, media, and events, and was shortlisted for the EG Rising Star Award for 2018.



Guest post by Ben Reed.

The masterplanning process is flawed. And it’s adversely affecting people's lives and wellbeing.

Let's look at why the masterplanning is often a complex process and needs to be modernised to lead with a 'consumer first' approach.

Tangentially, if masterplanning is straightforward, why has the number of residential planning applications in London fallen by nearly a third, year-on-year, in the first quarter of 2018? Read more here.

So, what jumps out when looking at, or creating, a masterplan? Are you looking at streets, public squares and places? Are you looking at pedestrian routes, rights of light, vehicle movement, tech infrastructure and green spaces? Or are you looking at planning use classes, residential and commercial space quantums and how best to get planning permission?

It's fair to say that most developers are looking at the masterplan as part of a project workstream, a vehicle to get funding, a robust cost model, and finally, planning permission to deliver a successful project - and make a tidy profit. On the other end of the spectrum, the architects, engineers and masterplanners are caught up with the detail, mix of uses and sensitivities to the neighbouring areas.

So, who is looking at the consumer and resident journey? Where is the pub? Where is the music venue? Where do you walk and know you may bump into a friend or get lost? Where can you create and make things? How will the masterplan foster a community? These considerations are not the role of a placemaking agency to action because they are appointed too late in the process, nor should this be the role of a public art agency.

I feel that masterplanning needs to draw from the experience of cultural and music experts - right from the embryonic stages. Use people who know how to create places that have the best possible chance of being popular and successful - places that are in tune with the needs of the community and visitors. This ensures that things are built to the right spec, will attract the right operators and tenants, will stand the test of time and generate revenue.

For help with your next mixed-use project contact Sound Diplomacy.

About the Author, Ben Reed:


With 20 years spent in the advertising world, Ben has built up a network of brands and businesses interested in exploring new ways to connect with their customers and places. Ben's focus is to work with global brands on how to sculpt powerful brand experiences within physical spaces.

Ben has seen placemaking inform the complex masterplanning process for large regeneration projects, but now sees placemaking as an overused term – so Developers, Councils and Cities are drilling down into what it actually means.

Ben is a guest contributor to Sound Diplomacy and a member of the London Music Board.



Sound Diplomacy developed a strategy for Barcelona City Council to design and implement a Music Hub in Fabra i Coats, a creative innovation centre in Barcelona.

What we did:

  • We developed a benchmark study of 14 music hubs around the world for the Barcelona City Council’s Culture Institute. This included a best-practice guide to implementing a music hub in an existing cultural centre in the city.

  • We have written a strategy for the Barcelona City Council to design and implement a Music Hub in Fabra i Coats, a creative innovation centre in Barcelona.

  • Some of our strategic recommendations have already been implemented, including the development of a radio station.

  • We also assisted in the development of a music committee, including music stakeholders, residents in the space, and the local music ecosystem, to establish alliances and strengthen the music sector in an area that is not central.


Why Cities Should Be Planned for Night – and Not Just Day

This article first appeared in NewCities

Image: toyechkina - Adobe

Image: toyechkina - Adobe

The Anglo-Saxon planning system that guides our towns and cities in North America is not fit for purpose. The reason I say this is that the rules and guidelines that determine what is built where and why ignores the length of our day. The concept and practice of planning urban areas is tailored almost exclusively to daytime functions. This means, intentionally or not, the needs of the nighttime are overlooked from a planning perspective. This creates significant tension in our town centres and central business districts around the world.

This is one of the primary reasons cultural and entertainment venues are struggling in city centres around the world. In London, one-third of all music venues have closed in the last ten years and around half of all nightclubs. In Toronto, seven music venues have closed in 2017 alone. These trends are echoed everywhere. If these challenges are addressed in planning, we can surmise that two opposing needs of urban residents at night – those who want to sleep and those who want to go out – are not considered at the same time and place, making it difficult to consciously cater for both. Planning, being a blunt tool, classifies commercial, industrial or residential, leaving little leeway for culture as growing pressure on living space means residential areas are encroaching into crowded urban areas, putting residents closer to entertainment or commercial uses. If managed appropriately through mixed-use planning, strict guidelines and modern development practices, this would energise our towns and cities.  Instead, in practice, it leads to noise complaints, ordinances, infractions and conflicts.

No one individual is to blame and there is no single reason why businesses close their doors. But, if we take a closer look at our cities’ blueprints and explore how our cities are mapped, designated and planned, planning for nighttime is frighteningly absent. While all cities need more homes for more people, the cultural reasons many of us choose life in cities are under threat. I believe this boils down to the historical framework that guides how we plan. If we plan for the daytime but license at night, we create a reactionary system after 7:00 p.m. where everyone loses. If buildings are not fit for purpose, for example, or allowed to be constructed without considering their local environment, those that inhabit them are affected. It makes it incredibly difficult to positively plan for all scenarios.

We need a global, 24-hour planning system to ensure we are building better towns and cities for us all, whatever activities we choose to participate in after 7:00 p.m. There are many examples of city leaders demonstrating tools and mechanisms that work through planning. In San Francisco, the city entertainment licensing agency, the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, are statutory consultees on planning applications within 300 feet of an entertainment premises. This includes condos, office blocks and hotels. In London, music venues are being planned within mixed use developments from the very beginning of the master planning process, including one in Vicarage Field in the city’s eastern suburbs and the Old Vinyl Factory, in the west. In New York City, the Mayor is creating a Nighttime Ambassador position to tackle a host of issues including burdensome regulations for licensed operators. In the United States alone, over 40 cities have a Nighttime Mayor or a Nighttime Manager. The State of Florida is even developing a network to support them. Much of this work is about compliance, policing, safety and noise, but it legitimises a need to plan at night – and provides the appropriate support to manage this plan.

Much of this is framed around the need to increase nightlife, but this is not the case. It is about legitimising, planning and thinking about life at night – from now into the future – and how it affects the places we choose to live. Only London has a vision for developing and managing its nighttime economy – and it is less than one month old – a document that proactively projects and proposes a plan, rather than waiting for something to happen. This is just beginning. Every city should plan all day, all 24 hours, and while life at night means something different in each city, every city experiences night, and it is the same amount of time for all of us.


Music Cities: Why music is a tool for urban development

This article first appeared on Ciudades Sostenibles Blog

Image: John R Rogers

Image: John R Rogers

Many cities have found music to be a way to fulfill some of their socio-economic objectives, on top of those that are specifically cultural. For example, Austin (Texas, USA) or Adelaide (Australia) have been declared musical cities and have developed innovative and creative strategies to take advantage of the opportunities that the music industry has to offer.

Other cities and organizations have followed their lead, making music a driver of progress worldwide:

  • Amsterdam was the first city to choose a night-time mayor, a figure responsible for coordinating and strengthening the nightlife and music scene in the Dutch capital.

  • In South Africa, the organisation Bridges for Music uses music as a medium for social integration and to raise awareness about development issues.

  • In the UK, UK Music produces annual reports on the impact of musical tourism over the local economy.

In 2004, UNESCO established the Creative Cities Network in order to promote international cooperation among cities that see creativity as a means for sustainable development and urban progress, as well as a tool for social integration and the preservation of cultural diversity. Since then, about 20 cities have been named musical cities by UNESCO, including Bogota, Medellin, Kingston and Salvador.

Bogota was the fifth city and the first in Latin America to join this network. In a city with an active and prosperous music scene like Bogota, this appointment promoted the creation and implementation of policies dedicated to put music at the center of city life. Since then, Bogotá has developed and implemented a series of public policies to foster greater intercultural dialogue by using music as a tool for social transformation and to overcome some of the city’s main challenges.

An example of these policies is Bogotá’s Music Plan, created in collaboration with several industry players, both public and private. This plan looks at issues such as training, creating musical circuits and the protection of spaces dedicated to live music. One of the measures taken within the plan was the creation of Bogota’s Music Cluster in February 2015 in order to strengthen the pillars that directly affect the industry’s competitiveness—development and innovation, promotion and marketing, regulation and human talent—and to transform the city into the main music business centre in Latin America.

What can Latin American cities do to promote their development through music?

Like Bogota, other cities in the region can also develop strategies to enhance their music industry, and to join the global movement to make music a driver of development. In 2015, under the slogan “a strong and sustainable music industry is the most efficient way to build, maintain and expand vibrant and economically prosperous cities,” the Music Cities Convention was born: an event created by consulting firm Sound Diplomacy and by Martin Elbourne—co-founder of the festivals like The Great Escape and WOMAD—in order to regularly bring together representatives of local governments, legislators, academics, agents of the music industry and urban planners to analyze the role of the music industry as a tool for:

  • Creating jobs

  • Increasing local revenue without raising taxes

  • Streamlining and promoting public transport

  • Managing tourism

  • Regenerating urban areas

  • Retaining and attracting talent and investments

  • Social integration and the rationalization of urban infrastructure.

Since its first edition in Brighton in 2015, the Convention held a second edition in Washington DC and is preparing for a third meeting in the city of Brighton on May 18. This new edition will bring together professionals and thinkers like Carlos Chirinos, a professor at NYU and promoter of the song “Africa Stop Ebola” to raise awareness and educate the population of Guinea about this disease; Mirik Milan, the Night Mayor of Amsterdam; and Eddie Bridgeman, the director of Space Meanwhile, among others.