Adam Marks


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Alistair Watson


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Clare Harman Clark

Senior Counsel

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Adam Marks


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Alistair Watson


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Clare Harman Clark

Senior Counsel

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13. Juli 2021

New research sets out vision for 2040 cities, with more flexibility, fewer commutes and tackling the climate crisis

The days of clogged sweaty commutes, ferrying workers into a single city centre could be numbered, according to a new study.

New research released today, City 2040, proposes how UK cities need to change post-pandemic enabling the real estate sector to flourish over the next 20 years, and use these changes to benefit both the environment and the wellbeing of citizens.

Key elements of this vision include adapting single city centres to broaden their appeal, and the addition of smaller hubs within a city's bounds. This will create more localised areas with unique identities and more widely accessible urban green space, all of which will benefit the environment.

Our research, released in collaboration with think tank the Edge and University College of Estate Management, harnesses ideas offered by 600 academics and experts drawing conclusions and new solutions for industry professionals to consider.

We created the research to deliver an industry-first holistic vision, informing best practice for cities across the UK to support government bodies and policy shapers, property investors and developers, space creators and curators. 

City 2040 aims to:  

  • assist policy makers by setting out a shared vision for UK cities looking ahead to 2040
  • recommend a series of innovative approaches and solutions to support well-integrated city making with lasting benefits for us all, and the sector.

Research included reviewed literature and also contributions from groups of expert industry leaders who came together to debate views and share ideas pre-launch.

Taylor Wessing partner Adam Marks, who led on the project, said: "COVID-19 has acted as a reset for how we think about the way we work and live. Our built environment must reflect this.

The pandemic has accelerated this change, but it isn't the only factor influencing how we live and work. We also have a climate crisis, and as we rebuild and reassess our futures we must use this opportunity to make changes which benefit all of us and our planet.

By focusing on four of the distinct themes prominent throughout the results of our research together, City 2040 sets out a vision for how this can be done. Our aim is to provide more clarity to some of the white noise on city development, deliver new solutions and offer alternative options to support how our cities are shaped more effectively to serve our future."

Head of planning, partner Alistair Watson, and Senior Professional Support Lawyer, Clare Harman Clark continued: "The world’s population will continue to focus on wanting to be in and around cities. Cities will continue to densify and populations will continue to grow. What matters now is about how the densification and growth is achieved. This report illustrates how that can be done for the social, economic and environmental benefit of cities, and our populations." 

Simon Foxell from the Edge think tank said: "City 2040 offers a hopeful vision of how cities, including London, could look in 20 years' time. 

A city built and adapted to this vision could be a welcoming and inclusive place for all. Great cities like London have been known to fail on the equity front, making life harder for our most disadvantaged communities. 

A growth plan, which takes into account the needs of all, is the best way forward."

The third team involved in the project was University College of Estate Management. UCEM Principal, Ashley Wheaton, commented: “Not only is UCEM the leading provider of supported online education in the built environment but the institution, under our current leadership group, is increasingly a driver of change in the sector. Where opportunities exist to create a better built environment, we will take them, and the publication of City 40, created alongside Taylor Wessing and the Edge, is a powerful example of this.

We can’t afford to wait any longer when it comes to driving sustainable change, and this is one of the key features of the publication which we hope will lead to actions taken to ensure UK cities are dynamic places to live and work in."


Read the full report

For further information on the key areas of research and more from City 2040, or to speak to our expert commentators, contact:

Megan Hunt
Senior Communications Executive
+44 20 7300 4080

Andrew Belt
PR and Social Media Manager, UCEM

Research highlights

Equity and exchange

Rapid change in commerce and technology is demanding new strategies for how we organise our working and our social lives, as well as how we interact with space. 

Our research on equity and exchange addresses how cities will flex to accommodate the people and commerce of the future, and how there is real opportunity in greater equity for residents by working together. 

In our expert insight sessions, Prof Danny Dorling, University of Oxford commented: “By various measures the UK is the most unequal country in Europe. We’ve also become dramatically more unequal in the last 12 months as a result of the pandemic.” 

Erin Walsh, Connected Places Catapult said: “A human-centred design approach should be at the heart of the process. We need to enable better access to evidence so that citizens can ask for more and collaborate more effectively with city leaders.” 

Patricia Brown Hon FRIBA, Director, Central commented: "The pandemic has shown us what a successful neighbourhood looks like. Social inequities have been dramatically exposed with many people in cities living in space-deprived conditions, and this has rightly re-opened the debate on how lived experience and density should be defined.” 

Private and public land

When planning for urban spaces, research of private and public land highlights the importance of cities considering health and inclusivity in their plans to be successful. 

The research suggests a strengthening of civic rights and stewardship of urban green spaces, brought to the attention of the public like never before, as a result of the 2020 and 2021 lockdown measures.

Stephen Edwards, Director, Living Streets said: “The simple act of walking contributes to physical and mental health in so many different ways. Walking is free and has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, depression and many other conditions. Ensuring access to green spaces for all is fundamental to wellbeing in cities.” 

Clustering and proximity

Research from the City 2040 study also shows that the way UK cities are structured could change.

Its likely cities will densify and populations will continue to grow. Instead of building around a single city centre, growth will focus on a number of local centres with a multi-hub approach that maximises space and building occupancy through alternative use. 

The flexibility this offers industries has major benefits for cities. Areas wouldn't be dependent on the success of specific industries traditionally seen as 'suiting' a specific location or space. Investments and buildings will be more sustainable, and through the incorporation of PropTech and ESG planning. 

Mark Allan, CEO of LandSec said: “In terms of investment strategy, I believe that the impacts of Covid on re-thinking the built environment are much more significant than the impact of Brexit… The acceleration of obsolescence in the retail sector means that what would have taken 10 years has now happened in 12 months. If the right blend of uses to replace retail is curated, then collectively there is new potential for greater symmetry and mixed-uses where previously this would not have been possible.” 

Ian Marcus OBE, Senior Advisor of Eastdil Secured, CUL said: “The definition of real estate has broadened and investors are seeking longevity and certainty. Significant capital today is much more comfortable investing in mixed-use, placemaking and urban regeneration which are fundamental to our future city.”

The impact of achieving clean air

The way cities develop in the next 20 years provides an opportunity to reverse urban climate change impacts through joined up sustainable design. 

Some of the key suggestions to achieve this include adopting circular economy principles, increasing green space, revising infrastructure and achieving clean air.

Simon Birkett, Clean Air London commented: “There is an opportunity to re-engineer our cities to tackle the public health and climate crises together.” 

Helen Gordon, CEO, Grainger Plc said: “Long-term investors like Grainger need to think ahead to 2040. We do review air quality and where homes cannot be future-proofed against poor air quality this has stopped us investing in those locations.” 

Prof Jim Coleman, Head of Economics, WSP said: “The other big thing that sits on top of all this is the commitment to net-zero. Decarbonising an economy is a huge structural job, but a necessary one.” 

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