The Future of City-Building Starts with You
The world’s cities are growing at an unrelenting pace. Right now, more than half the world’s population lives in large urban centers, and that number is on the rise. By 2050, experts at the United Nations believe that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Between 1950 and 2018, the number of people living in urban centers grew from 751 million to 4.2 billion. Humanity is undeniably becoming more and more concentrated in specific areas on the planet.
When people move to urban areas, they need places to live, work and play. And they want those spaces built with thoughtful, elegant solutions that service the community. But, as a developer, you probably don’t often live in the area where you’re building. So how do you know what a particular community needs and wants? The answer is to implement a community engagement strategy focused on feedback from the residents.
A community engagement strategy empowers residents to take part in planning their cities and helps architecture, design, engineering and construction firms listen and respond appropriately. These strategies have been the foundation of sound urban development for decades, but the current growth spurt in urban environments makes them more necessary than ever.
According to the World Bank, “to make sure that tomorrow’s cities provide opportunities and better living conditions for all, it is essential to understand that the concept of inclusive cities involves a complex web of multiple spatial, social and economic factors.” City building in the future must emphasize community input, and for that, you need easy-to-implement methods.
What is a community engagement strategy?
You may think you already know the definition of a community engagement strategy. If you’re picturing a simple plan for some quick conversations with a few invested residents, you’re right. Sort of.
Actually, a true community engagement strategy results in much more than a few complaints, some interesting comments and not a lot of back-and-forth. Yes, even a quick interaction will yield some input from the people living in the area you wish to develop. But hosting one or two public meetings, telling people what you’re building, getting their immediate thoughts on the matter and moving on isn’t enough anymore. No, properly engaging the community takes a bit more effort than that.
The word “strategy” implies a measured and organized approach. And that’s precisely how you should be thinking of community outreach. Not as a one-off event you host to check off a box. Rather, a community engagement strategy should include a series of efforts specifically designed to get input from every member of a neighborhood who wants to participate. Your strategy has to facilitate two-way engagement for infrastructure project-related planning, policy and design decision making. Some integral pieces of your strategy should be
- forging relationships with community leaders, government officials and existing business owners;
- building a responsive social media presence;
- hosting outreach events that are informational and fun;
- providing access to project information for every member of the community; and
- establishing a way for residents to easily submit public comments.
There’s certainly more you can do to reach the communities you’re developing, but these are a few good places to start. Of course, even the best-laid plans can fail on some level. Unfortunately, for many developers, failure happens when they take a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach to community engagement.
A bottom-up approach means focusing on the neighborhoods, their needs and how you can address them. Shifting your focus from “us” to “them” may not feel natural or easy. But gathering information on the pain points of a community before construction kicks off results in far better outcomes for everyone.
How will a community engagement strategy benefit you?
A community engagement strategy only yields positive results when executed well. For this reason, putting in the work to cultivate an intuitive, responsive plan to get the public’s buy-in for your next project is essential. Because when you don’t incorporate neighborhood feedback into your project plan, you lose out on these four benefits of a well-executed strategy.
Benefit #1: Reduced costs
Engaging the community is a proven method to reduce total project costs. Sure, there are some up-front expenses associated with outreach, but those nominal amounts far outweigh the potential savings you can realize by communicating directly with residents.
There’s minimal financial downside to involving the community. Overall, you could see cost reductions of up to 20% after implementing an effective community engagement strategy. Why? Information, transparency and accountability. Residents are less likely to delay your project with legal challenges and protests if they have a quick and convenient way to share their concerns. And knowledge is power. Hearing from local residents can alert you early to costly pitfalls you may have realized too late.
Benefit #2: Increased productivity
Besides costs, worker efficiency is another primary consideration when developing a new project. Project cost and productivity really go hand-in-hand, because the more efficient your team is, the lower the costs will be.
Community outreach increases worker efficiency because there are fewer neighborhood-induced delays, including slowdowns with permitting and other local government approvals. Worldwide, improved jobsite productivity has saved more than $3.5 trillion (and counting). You can get a piece of that savings with a well-designed community engagement strategy.
Benefit #3: Improved decision-making
There are days when you have to make a hundred decisions about your development project, one right after another. These times are exhausting, especially since most of your choices directly impact project cost, worker efficiency, and your project’s overall success (or failure). But with better data, these decisions can get a little easier.
The more you know about a project, the better-equipped you are to make sound decisions. And the more outreach you do, the more access you have to relevant, impactful information. Granted, residents won’t have the latest engineering data on load capacities, but their input can give you context to make good choices about how your project fits into the community.
Benefit #4: Enhanced communication
Everything we’ve spoken about so far points to the most important and desirable outcome of a community engagement strategy: communication. You can easily and quickly resolve most issues raised by the neighborhood, but only if residents have a way to express their kudos and concerns directly to you. For that, you need an established method of communication that is accessible to everyone.
Avoiding neighborhood input and failing to open lines of communication could be a fatal mistake for your development project. Irys helps you build collaborative communities by giving you access to an easy-to-use, organized and comprehensive platform that increases community and stakeholder satisfaction.