On November 17, I moderated a discussion with some of Boston's
best and brightest minds in real estate for a workshop at Build Boston
2011 that offered tips, opinions and best practices for working
with communities and the media for development success. The panel
featured Aaron Gornstein, executive director of the Citizens'
Planning and Housing Association; Tim Love,
founding principal of architecture firm Utile;
Rebecca A. Lee, real estate partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer
LLP; and Paul
McMorrow, associate editor at CommonWealth Magazine and Boston
The focus of the panel was on how architects and developers can
work together to engage the community and ensure the success of
their projects. While many designers and developers are
inclined not to engage the community or media early for fear of
getting hurt, our panelists were universally adamant that early
communication is the best.
"If a developer is calling me six months into permitting for the
first time, things are probably not going too well," McMorrow said.
"If you wait too long to engage the media, you risk losing control
of the information that's out there about your project."
Gornstein, who led the
successful charge to defeat Ballot Question 2 last year, which
would have repealed the state's affordable housing law, encouraged
developers and architects to meet with editors of local newspapers
in the early planning stages of the process to provide them with
information that could help keep stories balanced in their
Love and Lee both said listening and engaging the community
early on is key. One of the first things Lee does with a new
developer client is to ask them to participate in a "complete 360
reconnaissance" on the local political climate so they can better
understand how their project will serve the community and what key
figures need to be engaged and at what point in the process. Love
cited a recent example of working with developer
Merrill Diamond on a project in Marshfield. "He blogged like
five times a day," Love said. "It really engaged the
community." Love said that while many developers may fear
that opening up to the community too early may change their
project, if they set the table with the basic requirements and then
work with the community, "we can find out what we don't know
yet." He also urged a fearlessness around transparency.
And, as promised each panelist gave a parting tip:
Tim: Design, Marketing, and Public Relations needs
to be driven by a single narrative. The best projects link those
Rebecca: Developers need to spend more time
listening than talking, and it needs to be respectful
Paul: Get into the media early before the "ask" and
be transparent, honest, and available.
Aaron: Developers need to reach key stakeholders
early and engage professionals to help them do so.
I also thought these tips were worth mentioning:
- Listen through social media.
- Have a realistic timeline that takes into consideration time to
nurture the community and the media.
- Identify the low hanging fruit.
Helene Solomon, CEO of Solomon
McCown & Co.
Aaron Gornstein, Helene Solomon, Rebecca Lee, Paul McMorrow and
Tim Love at Build Boston's Meet the neighbors: Five tips for
development success panel.
Rebecca Lee and Tim Love during Build Boston panel on November
Panel discussion on community relations and permitting moderated
by Helene Solomon.