Future City Trends Part 3

Neighbourhood revivals, inclusive design and brands that represent: the annual ‘Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2019’ report by The Innovation Group maps out the biggest trends affecting people and our planet this year. We handpick some of the trends involving cities and ask how they affect citymakers.


Renaissance Neighbourhoods

Millennials the world over are increasingly drawn to “distinctive, off-the-map neighborhoods”, that had once fallen on hard times but have since experienced breakthroughs with cultural activities, interesting retail and economic opportunities.

UK Condé Nast Traveller identified Pangrati, Athens; Soi Nana, Bangkok; Barracas, Buenos Aires; Culver City, Los Angeles, and Sint-Jorispoort, Antwerp as the new creative hotspots, with Sint-Jorispoort attracting savvy creatives thanks to its contemporary art scene and authentic vintage stores. The neighborhood of Kadıköy-Moda, on the Asian side of Istanbul, is a favourite with liberal millennials in search of cutting-edge bars, art and culture hubs, cafes and music venues. Meanwhile, Plekhanov in Tbilisi, Georgia is gaining fame for its ability to blend rich cultural heritage with fashionable new bars, cafes and shops, making it inspiring ground for creatives.

Lisbon’s Beato district has become a playground for young tech entrepreneurs. The Future 100 report states: “With its huge investment in startup infrastructure and its cheap living costs, Lisbon is already home to the global technology conference Web Summit, and since 2016 it has been offering support to entrepreneurs through its StartUp Voucher—successful applicants get a one-year fellowship to pursue their ventures.


Soi Nana in Bangkok has been hailed a renaissance neighbourhood peppered with interesting retail stores and trendy cafes, successfully blending the old and the new, with a large infusion of cultural identity. Images: siam2nite.com


“This year, the world’s largest incubator will open its doors in Beato, cementing the city’s status as a go-to for tech-savvy entrepreneurs.”

Why are millennials attracted to these neighbourhoods? Deb Ryan, architecture professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte told The Innovation Group, “Millennials want to celebrate differences; differences in individuals, cultures, neighborhoods and cities. You’ll hear this generation of 20-and 30-somethings describe their ideal places as connected, lively, inclusive,healthy and unique.”

The Innovation Group points out that millennials are increasingly valuing an authentic sense of place and are pioneering migration to these creative hotspots. This enables them to beat astronomical real estate prices in the most sought-after city areas, by taking advantage of the modest prices in these renaissance neighbourhoods, in turn, giving these neighbourhoods a chance to rise.


Much in the way that Portland, Oregon has led the way in renaissance neighbourhoods with its lucrative and mass-appealing hipster lifestyle, governments are investing in ‘Portlands’ of their own, from Montreal to Singapore, West Kowloon, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi where collectives of creatives can begin innovative movements in design, retail and other enterprises. This not only creates commercial opportunities, it has the potential to attract the tourist dollar, and build diverse communities.

In Kuala Lumpur, Think City is working with partners to forge a creative and cultural district in the historic core, beginning at Masjid Jamek and its surrounds within a one-kilometre radius.

The Renaissance neighbourhood can also strike up anywhere without formal prompts by local government. Penang’s Jalan Muntri is a perfect example of a revived neighbourhood, rapidly being replicated in other parts of the city, while KL’s Bangsar has seen several revivals of its own and Section 17 in Petaling Jaya is headed in that direction too.

Moral of the story: Make your own renaissance neighbourhood! Integrate the old with the new, or forge ahead with your own innovations, maintain a strong sense of cultural identity and keep it fresh and novel.

Inclusive Design

Designing for inclusiveness is no longer for niche projects. With big brands and innovators in the homeware and fashion industries designing tools and products for ‘a more accepting and compassionate future’, accessibility is now par for the course.

At the Access and Ability exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York (2018), the exploration of design for the disabled was centrestage. Showcasing more than 70 works designed for better navigation of the world, innovative solutions from jewellery as wearable navigation systems for the blind, to shirts that can interpret music as a series of physical sensations for the auditorily-challenged, dominated.

In other parts of the world, brands like Ikea are putting considerate design in motion, hosting events in New York City to generate awareness and conversation around designing for disabilities. The event included talks by individuals living with disabilities and experts in ergonomic design and showcased a line of furniture and kitchen items designed by researchers, physiologists and ergonomists ‘to make the home more accessible for people with limited mobility.’

Image source: The Innovation Group, JWT Intelligence.

The fashion industry does not lag behind. The Future 100 report states: “Since 2016, ASOS, Tommy Hilfiger and Target have released adaptive fashion lines designed to make getting dressed easier, featuring magnetic buttons, adjustable hems and Velcro closures.”

Technology also gets in on the act. Hannah Rozenberg, an advocate for bring inclusivity into the technology landscape with her project Building without Bias, exposed gender bias inherent in the internet and technology industries. She told the JWT Innovation Group that computers were programmed to recognise “that a man is to a computer programmer what a woman is to a homemaker” and that “Google translates non-gendered language to a gendered one by assigning male pronouns to words such as intelligent, successful and ambitious but female pronouns to the words emotional, vulnerable and sweet.”

The Innovation Group stresses that as mega brands are designing for inclusivity, technology needs to follow suit. Rozenberg told The Innovation Group, “We are at an extremely important moment in time where automation is increasingly taking over our devices, spaces and buildings. As the world becomes more reliant on artificially intelligent machines, it is essential that they be designed without insidious bias.”


Public spaces and amenities,products and services, could do with a dose of considerate design thinking not just for those with disabilities, but also to address gender-bias. The development of urban environments have long been designed without consideration for how women move, and what they need to do from day to day within a city, for example.

Mobility design and how public amenities are operated could also be extended to further include those challenged by disabilities. Cultural programming, meanwhile, could reflect inclusivity, involving disabled groups, migrants and other communities to bring people together.

On the entrepreneurial front, for the moment, (although this shouldn’t be the case), designing for inclusivity is still seen as innovative and new territory with opportunities for staking claim on market share.

Grassroot Brands

Southeast Asian entrepreneurs have shown a rise in expressing local pride, transitioning from decades of revering foreign brands. As The Innovation Group reports, products from ‘mid-century rubber-string chairs to furnishings inspired by local poetry, a wave of new hip offerings is being introduced for local audiences and beyond.’

Malaysian brand, Kedai Bikin, (with the word ‘Bikin’ meaning to ‘make’, putting emphasis on the artisanal), gets a mention for giving the circular-frame string chair, ubiquitous in the 1960s, a makeover, redubbing it the ‘Merdeka’, with various versions costing no less than RM300. Kedai Bikin also features other Malaysian brands with a similar artisanal and nostalgic quality.

Claiming that the strategy was the opposite of nostalgia, architect Farah Azizan, co-founder of Kedai Bikin told The Innovation Group, “We are trying to remake and give it a modern take. The process is traditional but the product is new.”


Kedai Bikin’s take on the circular string chair that populated homes in the 1960s. Image source: kedaibikin.com


The trend is prevalent in Indonesia and Singapore too; Indonesian cult brand Tulisan (which means handwriting) makes home furnishings, bags, aprons and cushion covers inspired by ‘local poets, rainforest environmental themes and traditional Indonesian folk tales’ in contemporary colours, while Singaporean lifestyle retailer Naiise peddles furniture, home decor, clothing and accessories, based on local childhood culture.

This trend is marked interesting by The Innovation Group because it is ‘a counterpoint to globalization and the dominance of global trends and brands’, indicating a desire for simpler bygone eras, especially as these Southeast Asian cities have in recent decades undergone rapid industrialisation and societal change. The report states: “These hip new local iterations are popular in their respective regions, but also will likely garner international audiences as consumers seek unique products.”


L-R, Nala Designs, Kedai Bikin and Bingka are grassroots brands that have put a contemporary spin along with cultural heritage influences into their products. Images: naladesigns.com, kedaibikin.com, bingka.my.



This trend is an important shift in attitudes towards foreign brands. While local enterprise has often looked to more established societies and cultures for cues, whether it is the quintessential Australian-style cafe, the ‘local’ Irish pub, or a Tokyo ramen store, there is a new wave of businesses putting their own spin on these iterations, infusing food, homeware, clothing, accessories, stationery and more with their own experiences or discoveries of local heritage.

For citymakers, a concentration of local brands could be the beginning of a creative cultural district. The nature of these businesses make them suitable to inhabit heritage buildings which can be given a second life, and the economic benefits of a district such as this is undeniable. However, local entrepreneurs need to delve deeper into how they can produce their offerings without hefty price tags, or finding the right balance between innovation, quality and price.