Michael is well known in the property development industry as the expert in creation of success communities through practical advice of governance documents, titling and management structuring and accurate budgeting. Michael has been in the Community Management industry for over 15 years. As a Chartered Accountant, Michael ensures the accuracy of community funding , community budgets, unit entitlements and financial reporting of communities are beyond reproach. Prior to working in the Community Management industry, Michael worked in hotel management for 8 years. Michael’s key area of expertise is in the design and documentation of community management structures, place management and financial management of mixed-use developments, integrated resorts and large scale communities in the Middle East and Australia.
Michael Ryall, you work with communities, advising them on their management structures and their budgeting. What does that entail? Can you give us any examples?
Michael Ryall: I work with property developers to assist them in planning for their future developments. This can be on a small scale with a single high-rise or on a large scale for a master planned community. My involvement generally starts at the design phase. Architects and urban planners will design the built form and I will review and provide input from an operational point of view. On a small scale, it could be to advise on the design of the back of house layout and the common areas within the building such as reception areas, garbage rooms, mail delivery etc to ensure the future operation is efficient or the recreation areas to ensure the use will be maximised, promote community spirit and is efficient to operate. For a master planned community, as you can imagine it is a lot more involved.
“The IPM provides a vital role to the general public, in promoting and educating the concept of ‘place'”
For master planned communities, the urban planners will generally nominate the proposed uses and types of built form of each precinct and / or individual buildings within the master community. Along with the developer, urban planner and architect, I review the proposed master plan to identify and classify areas as either public realm, private for the whole community or private for particular users. I then provide advice on the types of facilities and unique operational requirements (eg maintenance, safety concerns, place activation considerations etc) within each of these precincts. The objective of this phase is to ensure that vehicular, cycling and pedestrian areas flow; public realm and whole community private areas are easily accessed, will provide maximum patronage and footfall, promotes community spirit and creates a “sense of place”; and that the community will be managed effectively and efficiently in the future. Another objective is to provide value engineering advice at the early stages of design to minimise late design and construction changes and minimise future operating costs.
An area of my particular expertise is identifying future operating cost centres, documenting who will own these areas (eg public realm or privately owned) and who will have access rights over areas when privately owned and what conditions or restrictions are required (eg access time restrictions or access for a specific purpose). I will also document responsibilities such as future maintenance, how contributions to the future operating and capital costs are made and in what proportions and providing long term financial estimates for the operation for different groups of users. The management structures you mentioned relate to developing governance structures so that future users within a community can contribute to how their community functions giving them a sense of empowerment; yet still have a workable governing structure so that the community can be effectively managed. Examples of these structures include the creation of management committees comprising of local councils, retailers or chambers of commercial, residential owners associations etc.
As the design and development process continues, I provide more detailed advice on future operating strategies such as retail and tenant mix strategy, facility management strategy, way finding and signage policy, architectural guidelines, fit out guidelines, hand over strategies, community communication strategies etc.
I have been lucky to work on some iconic projects in the Middle East such as Palm Jumeirah, Dubai International Financial Centre and Jumeirah Lake Towers. In Australia some of the master communities I have worked on in Brookwater Golf Community and Portside Wharf in Brisbane.
“Αt the end of the day, for me place management is about the people and what they want from their places.”
You have worked both in the Middle East and in Australia. Do you see basic differences in the ways place management works in these very broad geographical areas?
Michael Ryall: There are cultural and legal differences in the way place management is approached in the Middle East and Australia. However, at the end of the day, for me place management is about the people and what they want from their places. The population of the Middle East is no different in this regard. The people want to feel connected to their community and look for places where they feel a sense of community.
One of the major differences I have seen between the UK and Europe, Australia and the Middle East is the planning process. Communities in the UK and Europe have developed over centuries, Australia over the past century and the modern cities of the Middle East over the past decades.
When I first moved to the Middle East, in particular the UAE, it was in the middle of a development boom, where developers, were pumping out buildings and communities with little regard to future operational aspects or future residents and users of the communities. There were few planning restrictions and developers had little concern what was happening outside of their developments.
When you tour the old city centres in the Middle East, much like the old city centres in Europe, they are dense, retail is centrally located with access to public areas where people could congregate, there are bustling markets, food stands and so on. The old city centres in the Middle East have great place activation. In the rush to be the biggest and best in the modern developments, the developers forgot their roots.
Many of the developments build during the boom times were built without regard to creating places. These developments suffered the most from dropping property values during the GFC. Fortunately, many of the large developers in the UAE, have gained an appreciate of the value of “place” and now give more thought to the value of place in the planning process of their developments. In fact, many of the existing developments are being retro fitted with community facilities such as retail and recreation areas and connections to the greater community. Most new developments in the Middle East are creating retail and community hubs within their developments and they are creating links to the greater community. It is great to see the improvements in the planning process being undertaken.
“In the rush to be the biggest and best in the modern developments, the developers forgot their roots.”
You worked in hotel management before getting into the community management. For the outsider this seems like a complete change in career. Is it? Or are there similarities we don’t see?
Michael Ryall: I grew up on the Gold Coast in Queensland, which is a major tourist destination in Australia. I started my career in hotels and studied hotel management. Whilst the work I do today is vastly different from my early days working in hotels, many of the skill sets I learnt and connections I made in those days are invaluable to my career now.
In Australia a large proportion of tourist accommodation comprise multi-owned (strata titled) serviced apartments and hotels. On the Gold Coast approximately 66% of tourist accommodation is multi-owned, where the common areas are operated by a co-owners association which appoints the hotel management company. During my career in hotel management, I was working at an integrated golf resort and community, which comprised several co-owners associations. This is when I change from working for the management company to working for the community owners association. As my career developed, I became more involved in the planning of these types of communities.
Most of the cities where I have work are tourist centres and many of the developments I have worked on have tourist components. Having that practical experience of working in hotels and integrated resorts and understanding the hotel operator’s requirements, allows me to provide advice from an angle that many developers and designers have not considered. I also have a network in the hospitality industry that I can call on to ensure I am up to date with current issues and emerging technologies in the hospitality industry.
My current role at the moment is working for a Property Developer that specialises in the development of integrated golf resort communities. So it seems I have gone the full circle and I am back to where I started.
What are some of the challenges you are faced with in your day-to-day work with communities?
Michael Ryall: Whether it is in Australia or the Middle East, the challenge is the same. People.
I have attended a number of international conferences on community management and the message is the same the world over: How to manage people. Because communities comprise of people that have diverse cultural back grounds, different points of view, different wants and desires, managing these people to achieve a desired outcome is definitely the biggest challenge.
In a mixed use community where there are different uses, such as commercial, residential, tourist and so on, each group of users may have different objectives. Retail and commercial users want to attract as many people as possible, have a hive of activity to increase footfall. A residential precinct which comprises of young families will have a different objective to a precinct that has an older population. This is where planning is crucial. Many future operational problems can be avoided by proper planning of the communities and ensuring an appropriate governance structure is in place.
In the past, the approach has been to separate different users within a development in an attempt to minimise the interaction of different uses. The approach taken now is more inclusive. It is felt now that by mixing different types of uses, different demographics etc, creates more vibrant communities. I feel the more interaction within a community, creates a better appreciation of different points view and the more likely that a common goal can be achieved.
There will always be difference of opinions and disputes within a community; however, from my experience when all users are given the opportunity to express their views and participate in the governance of a community, when community issues are well communicated and the governance process is well documented, these disputes can be minimised and managed.
I think that is one of the reasons I enjoy community management, as the role continually evolves as the people within the communities change. No two days are ever the same.
“Because communities comprise of people that have diverse cultural back grounds, different points of view, different wants and desires, managing these people to achieve a desired outcome is definitely the biggest challenge.”
You are a fellow of the Institute of Place Management. What do you expect from an organization such as the IPM? What can it deliver to its members?
Michael Ryall: I see the role of IPM being twofold. Educating members and educating the general public.
Unfortunately, being in Australia, I do not get the opportunity to attend IPM events or seminars; however, I enjoy receiving the monthly news and the access to the articles. I regularly read the articles attached to the monthly news and often use ideas or quote references in my daily work life. Being an Australian member, I particular like reading articles about town centres in Europe and the UK as they have such long histories. It is great to see how these town centres are evolving and being reinvigorated to meet the changes in our modern lives.
I think the IPM also provides a vital role to the general public, in promoting and educating the concept of “place”. Many local retailers, local councillors and community members do not have the knowledge on how to promote their community or to encourage place activation. Through publicity on the importance of community events such as markets and the development and publication of “how to guides” and online tools for place activation, IPM can provide an invaluable service to encourage locals to activate their own community places and high streets.
The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides