Putting the Smart in Smart Cities with BNP Paribas Real Estate

Putting the Smart in Smart Cities with BNP Paribas Real Estate

A look into how a Smart City gets connected thanks to smart buildings, shared mobility, and much more!

 

What do Real Estate and Mobility have in common? We spoke with Kevin Cardona from BNP Paribas Real Estate to get his insights into why both are integral components of the Smart City. 

 

Can you tell us a little about your role at BNP Paribas Real Estate? 

My name is Kevin Cardona, and I’m Chief Innovation Officer at BNP Paribas Real Estate. My job has three main parts to it. First, is identifying weak points in terms of innovation for players within the PropTech industry as well as other companies (big and small) that contribute to the real estate value chain. In identifying weak points, we can then find creative solutions via incubators, conventions, etc. In a nutshell, we connect different players and develop strategic partnerships in order to grow real estate projects and the “Smart City” ecosystem. 

Secondly, I work internally with our different departments in order to create a bridge between them and our innovative partners. Again, it doesn’t matter to us whether these partners are smaller startups or large corporations. Our goal is to make sure we can find a win-win solution that benefits them, BNP Paribas Real Estate, and of course, our clients. 

Thirdly, our goal is to innovate ourselves. This means creating new technologies in-house, whether it be to enhance our offer to clients, improve our image, or create “goodwill.” Our latest innovation that has really contributed to shaking up the real estate industry is DARE (Digital Augmented Reality) Holoportation, a remote property viewing solution.

 

How is mobility related to real estate?

Actually, the Latin root of the French word for real estate “immobilier” is “immobilis,” so something that doesn’t move. And this is the exact opposite of “mobility,” so it’s quite interesting to compare the two. 

The Latin root “immobilis” would have you believe that things in real estate are stagnant, because buildings don’t move. But today, office space has never been more “mobile”: It has become inconceivable to develop any office real estate without taking into account the “home office” and the realities of remote-working, especially in Covid times. In recent years - but especially past few months - the “home office” has become intertwined with mobility because so many people carry out work in such a variety of places: you can work from your living room, a café, on the train, or in your office building. Mobility is no longer just a way of commuting, but also a way of working. 

Let’s take our future headquarters “Métal 57” in Boulogne-Billancourt (Greater Paris region) as an example. We’ve defined it as a place where the traditional office space becomes a central hub: people are moving left and right. No square meter is underutilized. The headquarters will be accessible not just for employees to go and work, but for locals to run errands or meet up with friends, creating a true ecosystem of different functionalities. It comes down to creating value. 

The office space “of tomorrow” is, therefore, no longer just a physical address: it has to be redefined and optimized based on the new ways people are living, working, and moving. And when you redefine how you use space in an office building, for example, that’s when you generate a new kind of innovative momentum. The same applies to personal and shared mobility: it's all about adapting to change, optimizing resources, and creating value. 

 

What impact does urban planning and real estate development have on mobility?

For a long time, cities were structured based purely on functionality. To go shopping or run errands you would specifically go to a shopping center/mall, and to get there, you’d have to go by car or metro. You would go to a business center composed of a collection of office buildings in order to work, but you wouldn’t actually live in that area. Basically, the trend for several decades was to separate all of these facets of your life - where you live, where you work, where you shop, where goods are stocked (depots) - into independent, functional spaces each designated or zoned within a certain part of a city or region. 

This urban model worked fine for several decades because the existing infrastructure was more than capable of handling the pendular movement (back-and-forth commuting) that came with this kind of set-up. But as cities become more densely populated - due to jobs, greater opportunities, etc. - these same infrastructures that were once undersaturated became greatly oversaturated.

And so the notion of “functionalism” in urban planning, today, has become obsolete. For practical, economic, and environmental reasons, we can no longer conceptualize cities as being defined by independent, “functional zones” between which people commute long hours and distances. This is unhealthy not just for our personal well-being but also for the environment. 

Cities are, indeed, under great pressure to reduce carbon emissions, from energy to real estate development to mobility. And so a major shift we’ve seen in urban planning and the real estate sector is an increase in mixed-use zoning and development because it blends personal, work, commercial, and other functions into single areas. This kind of organization helps reduce heavy traffic and ultimately a city's carbon footprint. Such changes in city structure also mean that the ways in which people commute and which vehicles they require to do so, changes, too.

 

The sharing economy has also impacted many facets of our lives from co-living to co-working to shared mobility. Is this phenomenon of “sharing” assets here to stay?

Every square meter of a building that is constructed needs to be maximized in terms of its functionality. The traditional office building is an asset that is greatly underutilized because - when you factor in vacation, weekends, evenings, etc. - it’s only being used 30% of the time. This space must be optimized, otherwise, you’re not getting your money’s worth.  

In fact, the same could probably be said of a private vehicle. Regarding mobility, one thing is for certain: shared mobility is no longer a choice. It has become a necessity. We are moving towards a world where resources are becoming increasingly scarce, so we have no choice but to share them. Traditional forms of mobility are obsolete: cars that require fossil fuels to run are not sustainable - not only environmentally speaking, but from a purely numbers standpoint, too.  

Covid-19 has accelerated this awareness around resource scarcity and our need to share assets. It’s the fact that resources are finite that concepts like co-living, co-working, and shared mobility will only continue to grow and expand. We’re moving away from an individualistic society back to a collective one. We are more conscious of our ability to achieve extraordinary things together, by sharing and collaborating.

 

Cities are more connected than ever before: why are “Connected Buildings” and “MaaS” (Mobility as a Solution) key components of a Smart City?

The goal of anything “smart” is to be more efficient, reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our dependence on finite resources, increase our resilience, and ultimately increase our quality of life. And this brings us back to the sharing economy, because without “connection” there is no “sharing.”

Overall, most cities still aren’t connected or “smart” enough. Even “connected buildings” aren’t being optimized to their fullest potential. That’s because simply connecting a building to the internet won’t make it “smart”. Doing so simply generates data. It’s the service behind the building analyzing the data that helps to optimize the building and make it “smart.” People who say, “data is gold” have got it all wrong. Data by itself is just a series of numbers. And data, like other resources, needs a refinery to bring it value. 

In the world of MaaS, Vulog is a data refinery: you connect your client’s vehicle so that you can collect and analyze data. By doing so, you help your clients optimize their service and you create value across the entire mobility chain. My company does the same thing but for buildings. 

So my vision of the connected, smart city isn’t about playing with smartphones or digital gadgets. It’s about optimizing resources - whether that be every square meter in a building or every vehicle on a city street - in order to contribute to a circular economy. When you have numerous connected services like this running across different sectors across an entire city - that the city is analyzing and optimizing - that’s when a smart city is born. 

 

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