I attended a community meeting hosted by a Caucasian development team in an African – American section of town. The audience was primarily older African-Americans. The proposal was on the fringe of their neighborhood, a neighborhood plagued with security and disinvestment issues. The developers pitched the idea, but after several uncomfortable exchanges between the development team and the audience regarding density, traffic, and community character, the conversation, and subsequently the development proposal, died. Re-investment that would have occurred in this community, will likely occur in another neighborhood because of a lack of trust and understanding between the Developer and the Resident.

Developers and Residents both play a special role in the growth of our cities and neighborhoods; therefore communication and understanding between the two parties is extremely important. Developers help facilitate progress. Without development, our cities would remain stagnant and void of innovation and growth. Residents are the soul of our communities, populating our cities and administering their many complex and moving parts. When these two entities meet in agreement, the result is often magnificent (e.g. The Gulch here in Nashville, Atlantic Station, Atlanta). However when there is disagreement between the two parties, this can result in a less than perfect project, or no project at all.

The failure of a project is usually caused by the lack of a relationship between the Developer and the Resident. In many cases, the Resident views the Developer as the foreigner, who has no concern for the community or its needs. The Residents however should view the Developer as the change agent or community partner; through that lense, compromise can occur.

Below are tips to help build the relationship between the Developer and the Resident. Following these steps, the Developer becomes the change agent and community partner, and communication with Residents is enhanced; subsequently moving innovative projects forward and creating sustainable communities.

Dear Developer - Become a Change Agent and a Community Partner:

ENGAGE the Community First:

Engaging the community early in any development process provides the developer insight into what would benefit the community prior to concrete decisions being made.

  1. Contact the local Planning Department to contribute to any planning processes that are occurring in the community or neighborhood where you wish to develop. Get involved in the process, and gather feedback while there is a captive audience, or remain involved to capture ideas.
  2. Hold an informal charette with thought leaders in the community. Thought leaders could include trusted colleagues who live in the subject community, local business groups or chamber members, and property owners directly affected by potential development. This will help gather the pulse and needs of the community prior to spending money on preliminary plans.

CONTRIBUTE to the Community:

Leave the impression that new development is going to resolve an existing problem, not exacerbate it.

  1. From the pre-engagement activities, determine areas of concerns for neighbors (e.g. an unsafe intersection, potholes, stormwater issues, new dog park is needed) and determine what could reasonably be resolved. Offer that solution as a component of the development proposal.
  2. Also from the pre-engagement activities, determine what a community needs, not what you as the developer think's the community may want. For instance, don't pitch a coffee shop when the community desperately needs a bank or dry cleaner.  Offering a much needed service will be remembered as a major contribution to the community.

RELATE to Your Customer - the Existing Residents:

Your customer is the existing residents, not your new tenants. Why? - Because any new development should enhance their neighborhood prior to new residents moving in or new businesses opening. Therefore, define your customer (existing residents) and build your communication and marketing strategy to that audience in addition to your end user.

  1. Yes, the multifamily development will cater to 20-somethings, but it’s on the fringe of a historic neighborhood with Baby Boomers. Make sure that your marketing and communication package not only targets the 20-somethings, but the existing residents, the Baby Boomers. As existing residents, they may have a 20-something who needs to move out or they may need to downsize also becoming an end user. Existing residents will also help sell your proposal via word-of-mouth if they see the benefit in it. Build your reputation by your quality of work and consideration of existing residents and conditions; this will build trust for future projects.
  2. When attending community meetings research your audience and be relatable; e.g refrain from using jargon, dress based on your audience, tailor meeting materials and meeting times to specific demographics.
  3. Keep the community (existing residents) engaged during and after the development process; e.g. develop a contact list and inform residents of the development’s progress, or when the solution to a community problem is being addressed. Residents will appreciate the constant contact.

Following these few steps can help enhance communication and trust between the Resident and the Developer. The Resident and the Developer can then work together to find compromise and solutions that help move our communities forward.

Tifinie Capehart is a Planner and Community Engagement Professional who has worked to engage communities in Nashville, TN. To learn about how CitySpeak and Tifinie Capehart can assist your staff in better engaging the communities you work in, contact info@cityspeaknow.com

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Authortifinie capehart