“I just like to get things done”. That is a familiar refrain from most of us when we refer to our work. It’s a pretty good thing to be known as a person or organization that always gets it done. Its even sweeter when the things that we get done contribute to something much bigger. When things are done in the context of a bigger picture, more people and stakeholders actually take the ride with us and become partners. And that same group of now partners can actually make it easier to “get the things done” more effectively, economically, sustainably, and with less drama. Aristotle was right when he said that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
When things get done with a bigger picture in mind, pretty special things can happen. With any project or initiative that requires support from a public entity, neighborhood stakeholders, or the general pubic, following a model of true partnership and shared bigger picture outcomes is key.
Here are five simple Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to getting the most out of your development ideas in and around established neighborhoods.
DO BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR VISION -- If your vision for a project forever belongs to you, then those around you can never own it. Public/private and community partnerships must begin with the sense that all partners share a common goal. This creates the incentive to work closely together in true partnership and to achieve an end neither could do independently of one another. Share your great ideas with the people who live and work where your idea will become reality. By share I don’t mean be gracious enough to explain to the world why yours is such a great idea. Help the neighborhood contribute to and perhaps even refine it. Help them come to see in your project, an idea that might actually enrich their lives. As time passes, the neighborhood might even think that something great created from your idea was their idea. That is probably okay if what you intended was more about a great idea coming to life, and less about receiving credit for it.
DO EMBRACE THE BROADER COMMUNITY VISION -- The vision for your project might be really exciting and compelling. However, always remember that the neighborhood your project rests in was probably there long before you and your great idea arrived. Residents, business owners and other stakeholders in that neighborhood may have already put some serious thought into what their entire neighborhood should look and feel like in the future. Your work should become a part of that, making it an advancement of their vision versus a standalone, disintegrated project with no connection to what your “neighbors” have dreamt of.
The community’s vision will almost always be larger than yours because they are thinking of the entire neighborhood. While the blood, sweat, tears, and money you have invested makes your project all encompassing to you, it will always be a piece of the overall puzzle that the neighborhood is hoping will come together for their future.
Learn to communicate about what you are looking to accomplish through the lens of what the community’s vision is. For example, is there a neighborhood or community plan that citizens put together to guide development in the neighborhood? Savvy developers know to look for and study these plans, but some fall short of maximizing the opportunity they present. Too often, the exercise has been to scour the neighborhood plans to determine if there are conflicts with the land use element of the plan (specifically to avoid rezoning requests). If any conflicts do exist, too many cases this becomes the first time many developers choose to introduce themselves to the community.
DON’T BE A JOHNNY COME LATELY -- All healthy relationships take time and patience to build. Relationships born out of conflict and expediency are almost never sustainable or durable. The same is true in the redevelopment business. If you already control property and have some interest in a redevelopment opportunity within a neighborhood, then you are already a neighbor by our definition and should act like one.
So what does that mean? Make the effort to become an engaged neighbor who contributes to their community independently of a prospective deal. The broad smiles and visits to the regular meetings should come long before and long after deal season. No one appreciates that one friend who comes around only when they need a favor, and it is no different in the world of redevelopment – especially within established neighborhoods. Relationships and credibility matter.
As soon as you know there is future opportunity to make a project come to life in a specific neighborhood, you should put in the work as early as possible (perhaps even before you have clarity on your project vision) and simply become a neighbor – a trusted and valued member of the community.
Over the years colleagues and I have spent many mornings, afternoons and evenings just being neighbors within the many communities that we have worked within. We have been uniformly more successful in our redevelopment efforts when we have already been considered to be a contributing to the neighborhood. This is as opposed to being perceived as an invisible property owner or opportunistic developer. I am confident those relationships made a difference in our ability to be successful. From re-zonings to major development code amendments, from complicated water and sewer infrastructure projects to the third-rail of neighborhood parking, having a strong relationship and partnership with the community around us has always made a difference. It was an investment of mostly time and some money to engage early and stay engaged, but it was worth it every single time.
DON’T BE A PRESENTER – DO BE A COLLABORATOR -- Include the folks in the neighborhood that your project will call home as early and as often as possible – both as partners and collaborators. As your plans develop, help create an honest and positive space for them to become “owners of and committed champions” for your vision. Turn your neighbors into contributors. Presenting plans and ideas as information alone (no matter how many touch points you make) is a weak method of gaining buy-in. Find and celebrate the links between the neighborhood’s identity and future plans, and the new development you wish to bring to life.
DO STICK AROUND -- After your project(s) has been successfully brought to life, remain as engaged as you ever were. Continue to sharing your time and resources with the neighborhood. Whether residential, retail, restaurant, office, hospitality, or entertainment, your project will certainly introduce new heartbeats to the neighborhood. Do your part to be a great vehicle for those folks to become contributing new neighbors. Become a trusted resource for your neighbors in the areas of your expertise as they evaluate future opportunities as the neighborhood grows.
All in all, neighborliness is an intangible but invaluable asset that you can bring to the table with every single deal you deal that you make. Be confident that your ideas and vision, when married with the hopes and aspirations of your neighbors, can yield something even more valuable, durable and sustainable.