China 2011

The Success/Damage Ratio: Rethinking the Balance Sheet

The charter class of Affiliate Fellows focused on how key success metrics used by the real estate industry and governments affect urban form and ultimately urban sustainability. Using Hong Kong as their laboratory, they studied the measures of success that have been used to drive the city’s amazingly dense urbanization. They observed many market attributes that were unique to Hong Kong and that have been subsequently transferred into mainland China to advance national competitiveness and well-being. Government policies that drove efficient transportation investments and maximized property values were highlighted but the unintended consequences of those same policies were also studied. The failure to measure the impact of development on social equity, livability and natural resource sustainability led to a significant backlash against development. Once people are housed and fed and educated, do they begin to aspire to higher order desires like art, authenticity, culture, self-fulfillment and self-governance? Does this mean that metrics need to evolve over time to keep pace with changing definitions of success? The 2011 Fellows believe measuring prosperity using a success/damage ratio would allow all parties to assess the trade-offs necessary to optimize the public good. For example, maximizing government land lease payments or developer profits by constructing large building podiums over transit stations may increase overall economic success, but if valuable heritage assets and numerous small businesses are lost in the process then the success/damage ratio may decline, depending on the magnitude and persistence of the damage. Seattle may have reached a similar tipping point – how shall we measure our success now?