Urban Living Festival 2023: Repurposing, flexibility and innovation

UK: Operators, developers, investors and service providers from across the hospitality and real estate industries connected at the Urban Living Festival in Canary Wharf, London, to learn more about how we stay, live and work is shaping the future of the built environment. 

Day One provided attendees an exclusive glimpse into the latest developments in Canary Wharf, with property tours taking place at Sailmakers (build-to-rent), The Collective (coliving), and TRIBE (hotel).

Throughout Day Two, interactive workshops, presentations and panel discussions brought industry sectors into sharp focus including hotels, serviced apartments, senior living, coliving, BTR and more.

In the opening key note, Tom Venner, chief development officer at Canary Wharf Group, mentioned that the local area is host to around 3,000 residents. “We are obsessed with understanding why people want to live in a particular place” he said, and stressed that a quality location needs quality facilities. The recent opening of a GP practice and the construction of a new school is expected to drive further demand over the coming years.

The introduction of leisure, hospitality and retail is key to revitalising cities, though in contrast to constructing new projects, many agreed that repurposing old properties is the way to go for now. Uncertainties on labour and materials is prompting developers to “move forwards with creativity and innovation” which will support the creation of hybrid neighbourhoods.

Similarly, a lack of housing stock, empty work spaces, conscious lifestyle choices and a growing youth market are some of the trends which are influencing investor and developer strategies.

During a main stage conversation about the hospitality and living crossover, Dominic Sherry of Viridian Apartments/MURA Living, and Dimitris Manikis, president and MD EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, agreed that they’ve never seen a more “substantial” shift within hospitality. Operators must be flexible and pay closer attention to customer needs which will lead to new branding opportunities.

Maxime Leufroy-Muray of Opago added that landlords should focus on offering turnkey properties. He said that conversions of commercial buildings into serviced apartments present the greatest scope for development.

Over on the mezzanine stage, Honor Barratt of Birchgrove shared her key learnings from operating in the later living sector. Barratt mentioned that the architectural spec of accommodation and facilities required modification – for example, removing high kitchen cupboards in favour of drawers.

She argued that the NHS may inadvertently be preventing new operators from entering the UK market when compared with regions such as the US. She also highlighted the potential opportunities of intergenerational living. Birchgrove is currently experimenting with this model to better understand “whether people want to live with oldies”.

All the presentations from Urban Living Festival 2023 can be viewed here.

Based on feedback from last year, the afternoon consisted purely of workshops ranging from AI to financing and corporate travel.

Planning restrictions were frequently brought up across the different sessions. Clarity would lead to more institutional investment in serviced apartments, however would restrict creative operators from slicing and dicing inventory. The UK has the potential to be a world leader in flexible planning and established hospitality players could help to educate government. The restrictions on coliving for example is prompting developers to pull back into PBSA or hotels.

In terms of how buildings are used, hospitality is extremely good at creating meanwhile space – described as areas which are temporarily activated – and real estate can follow suit. The success lies in understanding customer habits, and access control can deliver the insights on how, where and when certain spaces are utilised to inform decision making.

Urban Living Festival will launch in the Middle East in Dubai, November 2023. If you’re interested in learning more and working with us, please email

To stay updated with the latest news and announcements from across the urban living sector, as well as IHM’s future events, subscribe to Urban Living News here.

Urban Living Festival 2023 testimonials:

Joe Persechino, head of residential and student accommodation, AXA IM Alts – Real Assets: “Attending the Urban Living Festival afforded me a refreshing approach to the operational real estate sector with a variety of sub-sectors being discussed and with debate around not only today’s challenges and opportunities, but also those of tomorrow.”

Guy Windsor-Lewis, CEO and founder, Locale: “This was my first attendance at the Urban Living Festival which I found to be informative, well structured featuring some great panels and speakers and – what makes it different and stand out from many other conferences – the calibre of attendees and their clear willingness to listen, learn and comment on current issues facing the residential and hospitality sectors – all in all a fascinating and ‘well worth the visit’ occasion.”

Suzanne Luscombe, business development director, Opago: “The event has been great – everything that we do with IHM is great. The panels have been amazing, you’ve got the feedback from the workshops and you walk out of these conferences feeling really engaged and open to more conversations. The tours were great and we had lots of discussions. Going out to see the products is quite different and seeing how everyone is expressing their brands.”

Pawel Gawor, CEO, City Pop: “It’s always a pleasure to be here. It’s not my first time. I participated at the very beginning of the Urban Living series and also under the other names. It’s always a great forum to discuss with all the other industry professionals and to meet the investors and the technology providers, as well as see familiar faces. Overall, it is a great event that we attend every year. We are also the app sponsor and we are very happy about that. For sure, we will be back.”

Marcus Ljungblad, co-founder, Minut: “I think for me, one of the biggest highlights is all the people you meet. Talking to them, you get to create deeper connections and seeing them face to face is very different from having them on Zoom. Bringing people together in the same room has been great for me personally and hopefully for many more people here too.”

Markus Feller, CEO, likeMagic: “I think the event is great. What IHM does really well is bringing forward-thinking industry leaders together in one place. You need to stimulate the discussion and this event is all about learning and sharing. For me, it’s not so much about signing deals. There were two people I was already in touch with before who I saw on stage, and these discussions alone made it all worth coming to London. Thank you for this great event!”

Sponsors and partners included: MURA Living, resicentral, Hubble, Charles Hope, Duve, Opago, PriceLabs, Touch Stay, Viridian Apartments, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, YAYS, City Pop, Benihana, IMS, likeMagic, STR, Vertus, Corporate Housing Factory, Gravtiy Co, and Roger Lewis.

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