How to ensure successful regeneration: “make the invisible visible”
While attending Property Week’s Regenerate conference at U+I’s offices earlier this year, I was overjoyed to hear so many of the sector’s leaders discussing the need to put communities at the centre of regeneration projects. Richard Upton, Deputy Chief Executive at U+I, emphasised that the sector has had a “dirty secret” for too long – that some property developers have been merely paying lip service to community engagement, doing the bare minimum to get through planning, and focusing primarily on profit.
But, thanks to the digital revolution, communities now have more choice, more avenues to voice their opinions and abundant information on products and services, allowing them to no longer simply accept what is on offer.
As Upton explained, regeneration should drive “moral, spiritual or physical renewal or invigoration”, and we couldn’t agree more. Regeneration is more than just bricks and mortar and, with developers like U+I, Urban Splash, Igloo and Argent leading the way, the tide is turning. Developers are no longer doing just the ‘bare minimum’.
At Conductor, we choose to work with clients that care about delivering projects that improve how people live their daily lives, and we support them by focusing on three key factors:
· Building trust
· Being community considerate
· Communication and continued consultation
Developers too often create placemaking strategies that don’t relate to existing communities or take account of the already rich social fabric. Speaking at the Movers & Shakers BTR Forum, Michela Hancock of Greystar revealed that, from a survey of 500 apartments operated by the group, the most important amenity for tenants was human interaction. This is rarely a top priority for developers, especially in regeneration.
A two-way dialogue, between developer and community, is vital for building trust. Communities should be kept informed from the very early stages, with honest communication. Only once trust is established will a community ‘buy into’ a regeneration project and all of the associated outcomes that offer to enhance their lives.
Forward thinking developers recognise the benefit of having diverse teams which better reflect the communities in question – for instance, there are 34 different cultures represented in the Old Oak and Park Royal development in West London, and one way of reassuring communities that their concerns will be addressed is by ensuring decision makers understand or share some of the cultural or local heritage and can effectively respond to their requirements with meaningful initiatives.
Being community considerate
In working to secure community buy in, developers are reliant on data to provide insight. Deep insight comes from the analysis of real-time data that tracks a community’s wants, needs and frustrations as they change during the lifetime of a project. This insight enables dynamic engagement that fuels positive community dialogue.
It’s important, during any consultation, to find the time and resources to meet with different community groups. This includes hosting consultation events in local community spaces, holding focus groups with the homeless community, as our client HUB did during their extensive Taberner House consultation, or the simple method of door-knocking throughout the community. Technology (such as Mapify) can assist in effectively capturing and mapping the collected data, enabling critical analysis across different demographics. This allows developers to ensure that each corner of the community has their specific concerns understood and addressed, making the invisible visible.
Communication and continued consultation
Community communication needs to be structured and coherent, and continued throughout all stages of a project, updating stakeholders on important scheme information, exciting wins, areas for improvement and good news stories. The communications strategy needs to start at conception and progress through breaking ground, building and beyond.
Forward-thinking developers understand the benefits of communicating beyond completion, as this valued feedback helps inform future projects. It can help measure the project’s impact on the well-being of the community, creating a more worthwhile, conscious product. Argent is exemplar in this respect; they care about their influence on communities and continually measure impact and improve the estate at King’s Cross.
As urban populations continue to expand, and UK towns and cities face strategic challenges, community influence will only increase. Without community buy-in, much needed developments in rundown areas will stall. But with community buy-in as the main driver, developers can create a ‘viable product’ ensuring a return on investment and, more importantly, new and improved places for people who live, work and spend time there… it makes sense to put people first.
Image shows an aerial view of the regeneration masterplan at The Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes