Developing with Places
Too often the relationship between development and the people that call a neighborhood home is cantankerous at best. We’ve all seen it. A project is announced and a rendering is unveiled and then comes the packed community meeting, the negative online comments and the calls for the project to be stopped in its tracks. When the relationship gets to this point it is often too late to right the ship and meaningfully collaborate. In our work we’ve seen this happen time and time again, but we have also developed ways to avoid this scenario. Here are a few ways you can begin a collaborative process weeks or even months in advance of that first community meeting.
Understand what you can’t budge on and be honest about it
Whether it’s density, affordability or a lack of retail; if you just can’t do it based on site or financial limitations just be honest about it. You’d be surprised how much people respect an up front attitude. Once that’s out of the way the conversation shifts pretty quickly to what you can do.
Form a diverse stakeholder committee of people who will be most affected by the project
Keep this group to less than a dozen, but make sure they can reach and influence a diverse group of their peers within the neighborhood. Meet regularly throughout the pre-development and design process. Run decisions by them and bounce ideas off of them. These people will likely become your biggest advocates.
Work with neighborhood leadership
If there’s a community council or civic group, meet with them to discuss the project so they’re not caught off guard by it. This group will be essential in helping you navigate the public entitlement process your project is destined to go through.
Focus on experience and story, not just use and design
Remember that your project is not just a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet, it is part of a larger story of a place. For you it might first and foremost be an investment, but for others it is a reflection of who they are and what their community stands for. If you enter the process respecting this truth then ultimately your project will not only get built, it will be the best version of itself it can be.