A better world without us

Small talk
Marcin Juszczyk, the chairman of ULI Poland and a board member of Capital Park, points to the way forward for the market and how we can improve our behaviour so that the machines won't eventually decide to take us over

In April, the Urban Land Institute is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary in Poland and you’re planning to hold a conference to mark the occasion. What is in the programme?

Marcin Juszczyk, the chairman of ULI Poland and a board member of Capital Park: The programme will follow up on topics that we’ve discussed at previous events, in particular, Places and Spaces, as well as being a forum for our observations on what’s happening in our sector and what the main factors affecting it are. We’ve only just emerged from the pandemic and some processes have been sped up, so we are now faced with a series of game-changers – related to both technology and the social sphere. You could say that we will be focusing on the usual topics, including analysing how technological development, social change and new working models have been impacting the real estate market, as well as the type of product now being delivered by developers and which types are succeeding (or not). Based on these considerations, we can then try to work out the direction we are heading in.

And, in your opinion, which direction is that?

I should mention that one of our speakers will be futurologist Howard Saunders, who sometimes provides some very controversial but interesting opinions. He once told us how he asked Chat GPT what things would be like without humans and it provided him with a utopian vision of the world. The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that we have such a negative impact on the environment that the world would be better off without us. This is quite a scary conclusion to come to, especially considering that AI is based on content taken from the internet, which contains a lot of content on the harm humans do to the environment. So, to be semi-serious, I hope we can change direction before artificial intelligence decides that it needs to do something with the plague of humanity.

In that case, how can ULI stop the machines from rising up against us?

One of our priorities is decarbonisation. As you know, our sector accounts for around 40 pct of CO2 emissions and ULI is a good forum to make some noise about this so that we can start doing something about it, because nobody is going to do it for us. Different types of regulations are being imposed by the EU and other global organisations, but that can only be for starters. The most important thing is for the leaders of the sector to make ever-greater efforts. At the conference, we are also going to cover the global impact of the pandemic, even if this is just from the point of view of technological change and new work models.

How should developers such as Capital Park respond to these changes?

I can assure you we are putting our own conclusions into practice. For example, when we design an office building these days, we ensure that it includes more collaborative work space and more meeting places as well as fewer closed offices. We can see that our tenants are operating differently in such offices. Employees these days come to work just to meet people, so they like space where they can interact, do creative work, or work with a mentor, coach or more experienced colleague. Meetings are still necessary for a company to grow, so the space has to be designed differently. Nevertheless, I’m certain that offices will still continue to hold their own. Their quality and location remain of crucial importance, so I’m not worried about our own projects. But there are still districts where older buildings dominate and where there is a lack of amenities, and so office vacancy is becoming a huge problem.

As a developer, are you also feeling the pinch when it comes to access to loans and capital?

Of course, the mood remains cautious everywhere and we’re still in a wait-and-see period. This has given rise to a number of factors, above all, the interest rate hikes and the way this has impacted real estate values, the cost of capital, the cost of loans and, in the end, the demand for real estate. There is also the geopolitical situation; while another factor is the state of the economies of those countries to which we are closely linked. I’m mainly thinking of Germany, where the economy is facing its most difficult period since the Second World War – and this country has always been one of the biggest purchasers of Polish goods. If a transaction takes place these days, it’s either an opportunistic purchase for something smaller-scale, such as retail parks.

And could you tell us about how you invest in your free time?

I believe you’re referring to the all-year-round passion for the mountains that I’ve had for many years. In the winter, I go to the mountains for skiing, and in the summer for climbing. Once upon a time, I would take my climbing ropes to the Tatras or the Alps, but these days I’m more likely to take my daughter to the Dolomites in Italy. My daughter and I are also both musicians. She sings and I play guitar. Lately, we have got together with my nephew, who’s a professional musician and responsible for the music in Norblin Factory. We have formed a cover band called Generations, since its members are from different age groups.

Interview: Tomasz Cudowski