By Aaron Fairchild, CEO/Chairman of Green Canopy Inc.
The outcry against residential in-fill has reached a fevered pitch in Seattle. Neighbors are yelling at homebuilders, each other, the city, and anyone who will listen. The themes are relatively consistent; opposition to modern homes, bigger homes, added density, or the fact that projects are unaffordable to existing residents. Builders, on the other hand, are simply trying to build what the market demands – and that may well conflict. But, is the fevered pitch, and ill will around new in-fill developments in the Seattle area necessary, or is there a way to work together?
As someone on the front lines of the neighborhood hostilities trying to do business in a new way, I think there is. By engaging with (and listening to) neighbors and being transparent about planning and decision-making beforehand, infill housing can become a welcome and community-forwarding endeavor.
Having heard the angry outcry, and with a focus on continuing to build a human values-based business that contributes to communities, here are a few ideas for how this could be done:
Listen, really listen, first. Changes within a neighborhood can be emotional for many. When you recognize that going in, even hearing concerns starts to build a trust pattern. While plans are still conceptual, hold a community meeting to receive input on the direction of your design.
Engage along the way. Especially with topics like sidewalk closures, site work, paint colors, etc. (We use Tumblr quite a bit on this front) Updating the community using a community blog demonstrates awareness that the developer is entering into an established norm of how the neighborhood functions.
Acknowledge feedback and make Changes. When neighbors really see a result of their comments, whether as acknowledgement or in changes to the plan, trust is solidified, paving the way for the best possible relationship with the community throughout the construction process, and helping the new homeowner receive a much warmer welcome.
How is this good business? Engaging the community while building in close quarters with neighbors helps minimize angry calls and letters to the city, intense verbal discussions with subcontractors, and creates a much better work environment for everyone. By approaching our own projects in this manner, we’ve had neighbors bring us warm coffee, cookies, and offer to help. Our homebuyers are a welcome addition to the neighborhood versus being seen with skepticism and mistrust by association. All of this work helps create positive association with our company name and ultimately helps sell our homes.
In this day and age of transparency, builders really can’t “bulldoze” their way into a neighborhood. If neighbors and builders alike can remain open to each other, listen and engage, we should all be able to learn together how to effectively rebuild our aging infrastructure, honor our past and lay the groundwork for a thriving future in Seattle.
This piece was written in response to a thoughtful article from Seattle Weekly entitled "Boomtown Brawls" by Nina Shapiro.