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

Authortifinie capehart
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My husband often jokes that he would rather live in a ‘real city’ than another “ville”. He associates the tag name ‘ville’ with smaller cities. Meanwhile, he believes that larger cities have cooler, more direct names, like ‘Chicago’, ‘Miami’, ‘New York’. These cities, he believes, also encompass better transit, more culture, and fun neighborhoods. While he is correct that larger cities have better amenities (as our travels to all three of the aforementioned cities have revealed), I believe that the ‘villes’ of the world are also becoming cool cities in their own rite. They too are receiving upgrades in transit, more diverse populations, and better neighborhoods. It is fact that every city has to grow into what it will ultimately become; buildings change uses, people migrate to and from, and transit systems grow. So how does our own city of Nashville, measure up? Is it growing, or staying the same? And how do the residents of this city adapt to the natural growth that will take place? Are Nashvillians ready for their city to become…a City?

Nashville’s Growth


Nashville currently has a train from Lebanon to Nashville. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is proposed along West End – Nashville’s growing employment and retail center. The BRT may have dedicated lanes and platform stops. Other similar bus/transit enhancements are active on Gallatin Pike, and are planned along Murfreesboro Pike, both suburban corridors. When density increases (the number of people working and living along the corridor), a true BRT system with dedicated lanes and platform stops could be a reality on these corridors as well. In other cities transit has boosted economic development around train stops. Cities like Washington DC have been very successful with Transit Oriented Development – residential and commerce have developed around the transit stations boosting employment and residential opportunities for various neighborhoods.

Rendering of the Proposed East West Connector - Bus Rapid Transit Nashville http://www.eastwestconnector.org/


In the very near future, Nashville will be a majority minority population. Governing magazine reported in a recent article (http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/gov-new-black-south.html#next)  that African Americans are migrating to suburbs in large numbers. This is happening across the country and in Nashville. In one of Nashville’s suburban communities the African – American population has increased by 83 percent. Other races and ethnicities are growing as well; Hispanic/Latino population and Other Races (Middle Eastern, etc.) have both increased by over 200 percent.

Density and Housing…

The housing market has changed – baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964), young adults, and people affected by the housing downturn are looking for similar product – rentals and neighborhoods with amenities.  This new product looks like neighborhoods in the Gulch, Germantown, and the suburban version, Lenox Village. Old neighborhoods are becoming new – 12South, North Nashville, East Nashville are going through revitalization as new homes are renovated and new commercial services serve new residents. Get ready too, because suburban areas will see new residents as people look for more affordable housing, near good schools, and open space.

Are you ready?

This is an exciting time for Nashville, but how can you as a current resident, or resident of any ‘Ville for that matter, get ready for changes that your city may see. Here’s my take on how you can embrace the change.

  1. Embrace your new neighbors – They may look a bit different from you. They may be older, younger, and they may not speak English. Despite these differences remember that they want the same things you want – a safe place for their family, and a place to call home. Diversity has its benefits.  In the last several months, my husband and I have had dinner with his business partners who are from India, who are neighbors with a family from Africa. In the Green Hills library (an affluent section of Nashville) my husband helped an older Jewish woman sign up for an over 50 dating site. :) Get ready and embrace diversity – it opens your mind and senses in a way that is rewarding for everyone involved.
  2. Hop on the train, or bus, or trolley - Many great cities have great transit. In many places transit is no longer an amenity, it’s a necessity. Imagine if you could not afford a car – but you could afford a $40 monthly train or bus pass. In many great cities, that’s all many people have. Also think about this, as tourist don’t you love leaving your car at the hotel, and getting around with ease on the transit system? Well think about having that feeling all the time. Leave your car at home, and travel with ease to work and to major events on great transit. If you like that idea, understand this, transit doesn’t just happen, it takes political will, and the will of the people to invest in it. So when the time comes to support transit in your city, hop on board and wiz by the drivers siting in traffic – I promise you – it will feel great.
  3. Say “yes” to great design – When that new apartment building or condo project is planned in your back yard, don’t fight it - work to make it work for you and your neighbors. Everyone needs a place to live. Remember your first apartment out of college, or the studio you lived in as newlyweds? Yes, everyone needs a starting point. The difference however between a really great residential development and a bad one is simple...it's the design. Therefore, you should require great design to make sure it fits in with your beloved neighborhood.  Look for pictures of great development online, catalog pictures from vacations to your favorite city. Give them to your political representative, the planners in your city, or the developer. I promise – they will work with you. Request great design, but don’t count out a multi-family project just because it’s not a single family house.

Grow with Nashville…

Great cities don’t just happen - they are grown. Chicago, Miami and New York grew by innovation and residents who supported change.  Mass transit, diversity, and great neighborhoods with housing for everyone, were all on the growth agenda.  If Nashville residents follow the three tips above, then one day you may hop a train, have a conversation with a business man from Latin America, and visit a friend in a new high rise in Midtown. Then there will no doubt that the city of Nashville would have grown into…a City.

Authortifinie capehart
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