Create a Sense of Place

Engineering better places

If you travel the United States at all, you're bound to be struck by the "sameness" of places you visit. You can tell where the fast food restaurant is likely to be, which stores are likely to be in any given retail shopping strip, and where "hotel row" can be found, all based on development that follows transportion patterns. While this visual coding can be a comforting convenience to the traveler, it also rules out any sense of place that the community might have. It also rules out any kind of differentiation that could produce memorability or preference for a place. Current conventional wisdom suggests that it also results in a kind of cultural impoverishment for the people who live there.

water.jpgAs we've become more sensitive to the power of brand in establishing value and performance, developers have grown more sensitive to creating spaces that capture the unique character of the place where the development is situated. It can be a function of geography, local history, ethnic heritage, local tradition or a variety of cultural influences blended over time to produce a signature identity that resonates and represents the residents and, ideally, creates an atmosphere that results in memorable positive experiences, return visits, and an appeal that leads to the right kind of development and growth in the future.

As with most tasks, the best outcome starts with planning. You begin with a sensitivity to and awareness of local culture. Then you take issues of proximity and geographic context into account. That should guide you toward a range of "highest/best use" possibilities that will maximize the value of the investment by maximizing the development's value to the community.

community engagement.jpgThis kind of planning goes a long way toward minimizing potential objections and obstacles. Community engagement starts out on a good footing. People tend to remain - and gravitate to - places they consider the most livable. This, in turn, makes any development more economically sustainable.

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