Leading Cities: Public foyers help economies thrive

Leading Cities: Public foyers help economies thrive

Across the road from the LeadingCompany office is the office block of accounting company Pitcher Partners. It has one of the comfiest and cosiest foyers I’ve ever had the good fortune to encounter.

There are stacks of sumptuous leather couches and chairs, a line of tables-for-two along the windows, a café and lunch establishment, with its own seating of various types, and piles of newspapers for the solitary diner. The foyer is always full of people, in groups or alone, enjoying the facilities. I even saw someone curled up with a blanket there the other day, perhaps taking her welcome a bit far.

Why does any company go to the expense of creating public facilities in their commercial offices that they then have to maintain? Pitcher Partners is far from the only one; this is a broad trend across newer commercial design.

It turns out that economically speaking, it is a smart move.

In past decades, commercial office buildings have been forbidding places for anyone but those engaged in direct business with its tenants. Sure, that is fiscally sensible from an individual point of view, but it created what we once called the “urban jungle” – an impenetrable forest of concrete and glass in our city centres that no one in their right mind would linger in. Inhospitable, windswept, creepy even.

Today, a weary walker along the city streets of most of our major cities will find a comfy seat for some rest in a commercial building.

It’s a simple win for companies – the relatively small expense needed to create a public space helps to build a positive bond with the community in which it operates.

“It is partly about branding and partly about being a good corporate citizen,” Tom Jordan, managing director of architecture company, Hayball says.

“It is one aspect of the revitalisation of cities that has been going on in recent decades.”

The walker might take a second look at the company that has provided their resting spot and wonder, is it time to swap accounting firms, or at least make an inquiry? You never know who might take a moment to sit or meet in the foyer of your building.

I am reminded of a nasty urban trend that flourished briefly in Elwood (where I once lived and had a habit of walking about with my then very young daughter). Down the lovely tree-lined avenue we frequented, a new and wealthier demographic started to buy up the houses. They put up high fences as they renovated the old Georgian houses.

Suddenly, my daughter and I were walking down a walled corridor, where the innocent pleasure of noticing the street gardens change and grow was now denied us. For the café at the end of the road, there was less chance of us dropping in. That kind of selfishness has an economic impact.

The point I am making, is that all of us, including leading companies, play a role in the thriving economies of our cities by contributing to public spaces. Or as Jordan puts it: “You can’t separate urban quality from the economy. They are integrated.”

When companies invest a little money and effort into welcoming people into their foyers and around their buildings, they contribute to a people-friendly, welcoming city where there are more opportunities for exchange and for commerce.

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