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So Your Neighborhood is Changing...

So, Your Neighborhood is Changing: What does that mean? Over the next several months, we will be exploring all facets of this very issue in a series of blog posts. From identifying the signs of “revitalization” and researching gentrified neighborhoods in our own communities, to investigating new solutions for housing, healthcare, and services. We look forward to taking a deeper dive into this complicated task that affects our industries and communities.

First, let’s set the stage: Reports of “clean-ups” occur in the news. Streetlights are increased and upgraded to LED. Bus stops are no longer indicated by poles but by shelters and seats. Roads are torn up so sewers that once collected stormwater and wastewater in one pipe are being broken into separate pipes. Police are more active. Local spots are popularized. The area’s culture is evolving. Buildings that were once falling over or boarded up have been renovated with rent increased.

Franklinton Neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio

These changes all frame one major transformation: new renters do not look like the old renters.

This is an ongoing conversation in the development world. What are the changes a city, neighborhood, or individual needs versus what are the changes a city, neighborhood, or individual wants? These two categories are not the same in several ways. Some of these needs or wants are scalable and are more easily digested – access to quality housing, food, medical services, transportation, or jobs. While other aspects do not scale and can create a challenge to overcome – access to quality housing, food, medical services, transportation, or jobs.

Depending on who you are talking to and when you are talking to them, efforts to improve neighborhoods are identified at various stages of the life cycle -- growth, stability, decline, and renewal. Each stage means something different to each city, neighborhood, or individual. Good and bad. The effects of this can be delicate and impactful, to say the least.

Bottom line: these changes affect everyone.

When we consider the impact of real estate planning as architects, contractors, and developers, we must keep the stakeholders in mind – owners, investors, lenders, city officials, neighborhood associations, tenants, customers, and everyone who walks by this space from that day forward.

Problem-solving in these scenarios is not complex, they are complicated. Complex problems are like math. There is one solution and if we do not know it, we can find someone who does. These scenarios are complicated because there are emotions, cultures, incentives, needs, wants, and time connected to each decision. Is there an easy answer? Absolutely not. Is there an answer? Definitely. It involves relationships, awareness, alignment, compromise, and investment at every level.

Sherman Hill Historic District in Des Moines, Iowa

This investment comes from everyone who needs the lifecycles of their homes, streets, neighborhoods, and cities to thrive. These investments include safety, infrastructure improvements, multi-modal transportation options, zoning regulations, housing improvements, job creation, access to food, access to services, healthcare, and entertainment – along with everything else we experience day-in and day-out. These needs are weighed, measured, and resources dedicated.

The impact becomes blurry, however, when we start down the path of what each of these groups wants and which group is dedicating resources.

As we said before, planning real estate projects is an incredibly complicated task. The arc of each project can take years. A problem that a community faces this year may not be faced again for another five years. Remembering how that problem was solved and who was involved can be forgotten or dismissed.

The responsibility of remembering these weights and measurements, however, is the burden we must carry. After all, we are the teams being tasked with spending our time and resources on these improvements with the intent of impacting the health, happiness, and wellbeing of community members for years to come.

The architecture, design, construction, and development industries bear the uncomfortable role of enacting change and understanding the impact of each decision. It is imperative that we are willing to learn and understand the solutions developed in the past & present while preparing our communities for the solutions of the future.

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