Community Change Requires Community Design

Why do areas redevelop?  Well primarily it has to do with economics (market value, lending, and cash flow), but it also has a lot to do with Land Use.  Land Use is an often used term that has been thrown around recently in conjunction with our Comprehensive Plan Update.  Land Use and long-range planning are critical to understanding our community growth and development patterns and projections.  

 7th Street and 4th Avenue NW

7th Street and 4th Avenue NW

At one time, at this intersection (pictured above), there were FAR fewer automobiles.  Some family likely lived in the house on the corner.  Over time, the quantity and speed of traffic increased on 7th Street NW and 4th Avenue NW and the city decided to put in a traffic light.  Later, as traffic volume projections increased, the street was widened to accommodate faster vehicle traffic with less congestion.  All the while this eroded the quiet, single-family nature of the houses along 7th Street.  They became less desirable for single families so they became rentals.  Such large homes could be subdivided and compartmentalized into several apartment units and more people (i.e. more rent) could be charged.  So the density of the area begins to increase and that brings more demand for commercial services in close proximity.  This in turn makes the area more appealing to more people and increases demand to live nearby.  These Land Uses push and pull against each other continually evolving with the surrounding context.  

The facts are that it is no longer appealing being so close to a busy intersection, it cannot house any additional people, and it isn't worth significantly more so the rents can't go up much either.   So, what happens when there is no more that can be done with a property?  It redevelops.  There is already infrastructure there (water, sewer, electricity, gas, sidewalks, and streets) so someone scraps the outmoded usage and constructs a higher intensity use.  

Here is a practical example:  A local couple, born and raised in Rochester's Northrop Neighborhood, have always dreamed of constructing an apartment building.  They, like many lifelongers, own property that has been various incarnations of residence, liability, and investment.  Now they feel ready to submit two of their residential properties on the corner of the busy 7th Street NW intersection with 4th Avenue NW for their dream of an upscale multi-family apartment building.  Your quintessential infill redevelopment.

But the process they undertake for this redevelopment can vary drastically.  Our process is one of inclusion.  Our process is predicated on active listening and transparency.  Over my career, I have demonstrated my ability to play a vital role in shaping a variety of public and private projects in Rochester and other small communities in Minnesota.  During my tenure at the Rochester Area Foundation I was an integral part of a multi-disciplinary staff dedicated to positive community impact; with a primary focus in grassroots long-range planning processes and urban infill redevelopment of multi-family buildings.  And this experience of working with and alongside the community is how the "Community Design" process was attached to 9.SQUARE.

9.SQUARE | Community Design was an outgrowth of more than eight years of work performed in Rochester's neighborhoods, with colleges and universities, as a volunteer with the Minnesota Design Team, and years with the Rochester Area Foundation.  In those diverse capacities, I was able to develop a breadth of experience with architecture, urban planning, community engagement, community development, affordable housing development, urban design, and economic development.  Throughout that time, and in those varying disciplines, there was a recurring theme that emerged.  This theme was that the built environment--our cities, neighborhoods, and buildings--have a profound impact on our daily lives, and yet we feel powerless to affect change at an appropriate scale.  Whether it is the often futile governmental public hearing, neighborhood meeting with a developer, or the arguments across a fence about construction noise, everyone has an opinion and wants to have that opinion voiced and (here is the kicker) HEARD.  At the heart of this issue, is genuine community engagement.

Community engagement is often a dirty word in development, but at 9.SQUARE it is an integral part of our practice and a tried and true method to avoid surprise opposition during the design process.  The negative effects of not engaging the neighborhood/community are bad publicity, delays in the City review process, or even a project redesign.  These are not issues to be taken lightly.  A solid community engagement process will ultimately garner broader acceptance and community buy-in to any proposed redevelopment.   And this experience of working with and alongside the community is how "Community Design" was attached to 9.SQUARE.