The mood was inevitably more subdued than usual at Mapic this week, especially on Wednesday morning as delegates awoke to the news of more explosions and heavy gunfire in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, having already encountered heightened security at airports and then yet more at the Palais des Festivals.
Out of respect, some events had been toned down or cancelled after last week’s horrific events and there were some no-shows but not many - indeed, the numbers were slightly up on last year, at 8,400 - and everyone was trying to maintain a semblance of ‘business as usual’.
It wasn’t easy, and in between discussions about the latest retail deals and trends - ‘retailtainment’ being a particularly hot topic - you couldn’t help ponder the terror threat to retail. One person I spoke to said some retailers had closed stores for a few days to ensure staff felt safe, an understandable reaction, but those staff and shoppers will now be looking for longer-term reassurance as well. The Westgate Mall attack in 2013 in Nairobi serves as an acute reminder that shopping centres can be vulnerable - and now, with the terrorists indiscriminately targeting crowds of innocent people as well as specific groups they bear a warped ideological grudge towards (as in the Charlie Hebdo attack), fears are mounting that this vulnerability could be exploited closer to home.
The only thing that stopped the death toll being even higher last week was the security checks that prevented the suicide bombers accessing the Stade de France. What checks are deployed at European, UK and US shopping centres? Not many, if any. Vance Thompson, vice-president of HOK, told me that one of the few exceptions is Turkey, and specifically Istanbul. There, shopping centres have check points at all entrances, he said, adding that it is the only country he is aware of that has such security measures in place. Sadly, it may not be for much longer. The days of shopping centre - and concert venue - owners being able to rely on the vigilance of intelligence and security forces or the general public to stop terrorist attacks appear to be over.
London mayoral race
On a more upbeat note, but also one that acknowledges a threat (albeit only to the political and property status quo), the Westminster Property Association and City Property Association launched their Manifesto for the Mayor on Thursday alongside Deloitte research showing the £17.7bn contribution of London’s property sector to the UK economy.
Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson have been supportive of the industry, Livingstone unexpectedly so, as I discovered when I interviewed him in 2001 for Property Week for a piece fittingly headlined ‘You scratch my back’. But what can we expect from a Zac Goldsmith or a Sadiq Khan? People like Goldsmith because he’s Conservative, but does he like development? Khan is more pro-development, but he’d look for 50% affordable housing and, frankly, people don’t much like the company he keeps.
The outcome of the mayoral race will be pivotal for the London market. Let’s hope it gets its message across.