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  • Writer's picturemartinliptrot

How Placemaking Can Mean Developers and Communities Both Win

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

In my hometown of Birkenhead, England and my adoptive home of Seagrove Beach, Florida, there is a debate raging about development. In both places, local residents and developers share a passion. Residents are struck by the beauty and fragility of the physical environment and want it enhanced and protected, developers feel exactly the same, wanting to create new communities which blend with those which already exist and offer attractive homes in welcoming communities for this generation and the next.

But to read the headlines, the websites and the social media campaigns, you would think they were at war: riven by division and set in a 'zero-sum' game with only winners and losers.

What both sides really share is a trust deficit. They are strangers to each other.

Because planning laws in both communities are arcane and red-tape rules based, all parties are instantly drawn into a combative discourse when, in most cases, there is considerably more in common than first appears. Formal consultation programmes tick all the boxes of statutory mandates and requirements, but rarely do they bring current and future residents, developers and policymakers together around a single 'big idea'.

Of course there will be those who are absolute and unshifting in their stance. They will reject anything which changes what is currently there, and there are those motivated purely by profit, governed by spreadsheets and profit and loss. In Birkenhead, war rages about whether to build a luxury golf resort - one which provides jobs, a top-end hotel, a spa and sports facilities but also requires some new homes to make it viable. In this corner of northwest Florida, a doubling of population in the past decade shows no sign of abating and new roads, schools, homes and utilities are required to meet this growth in a managed way.

Bizarrely, today's planning regulations and processes - both on the banks of the Mersey and along the emerald waters of the Gulf - favour these stances over those more accommodating positions which seek to find compromises and solutions. In today's planning world, it is easier to petition, object or threaten legal review than to sit down with the support and engagement of 'the majority in the middle' and work out what can be achieved to satisfy all.

Yes, it requires a little more time and a little investment - but in the lifetime of a project it repays handsomely for all.

Consultation with purpose, dialogue with shared objectives, and flexibility and accommodation on all sides is what is required.

It is sadly unlikely the rules governing planning and development in either jurisdiction will change anytime soon, but with the support and guidance of organisations like ours change can happen. It is not beyond the wit and wisdom of elected officials, planning officers and county commissioners to recognise those developers who commit to place-making and involving local communities in their proposals are the ones who should be encouraged as much as community leaders and advocates for residents must be listened to.

Contact to learn more.

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