By Eve Picker
Real estate development as art
When you think of art, you probably think of Picasso or Matisse, not property developers like Mill Creek Residential or Greystar Real Estate Partners. Despite popular perception, real estate development is an inherently artistic endeavor. Some of the greatest artists in human history, people like Brunelleschi, Michaelangelo, and Da Vinci, all worked to create buildings and livable spaces.
For decades, since the birth of the modern housing industry at Levittown in the late 1940s, developers have focused on cranking out endless rows of homes with little thought given to much more than finances. Profits and growth were in the driver’s seat, with few considerations given to long-term community sustainability and dare I say it, beauty.
Many in the real estate sphere, on the investor and the developer side, are starting to realize that creating economically, environmentally, and yes, artistically focused housing is not only the right choice for society- it is absolutely essential to continue to remain relevant in a changing development landscape.
Crafting one of a kind environments
Innovative developers across the country are focusing on creating carefully crafted, artistic communities. Some of these new neighborhoods are purpose-built from the ground up. More commonly they are repurposed structures or vacant, unused lots in urban areas. Instead of seeing these areas as blighted, or unworthy of capital investment, forward-thinking developers and investors are focusing on them, partly due to the immense opportunity underserved areas present, and partly because of a genuine desire to create socially responsible communities.
Focus on urban infill
One strategy for creating art-driven developments is to focus on urban infill, defined as any new development in areas that are already built-up. Think abandoned lots in dense urban areas. There are many opportunities to create unique structures and neighborhoods in these areas, primarily because they are often overlooked by large-scale developers who prefer to develop on large and more traditional sites.
Adaptive reuse may be leveraged to help artistically minded developers reuse existing buildings for new purposes. Many blighted or economically challenged areas have an abundance of old commercial and industrial buildings. With some hard work and lots of imagination, these underutilized structures can contribute to establishing new communities that are not constrained by the narrow-mindedness of traditional development models.
An example might be an old cannery turned into a loft housing site, with a small commercial area in the vicinity. Or an empty school re-envisioned as a community meeting place or artist studios. Beautification and artistic efforts can brighten these once abandoned or unused places to add some life and meaning to the neighborhood – not to mention the sustainability of converting an old building rather than starting from the ground up.
Creative redevelopment projects
Both of the above strategies share a commonality: Creativity. As cliché as it sounds, you will need to think out of the box to create an artistic and livable development. This not only applies to the building and the community it is part of, but it also applies to the methods that a developer might deploy to get these projects off the ground.
Creative financing strategies can help developers build the communities that people clamor to live in, no matter how out of the ordinary. While traditional lenders and banks are often reticent to lend to smaller developers pursuing “out of the ordinary” projects, new financial tools such as crowdfunding, present an opportunity for developers to build something cutting edge and extraordinary.
Instead of trying to squeeze an unique development project into a traditional lender’s box, you can go directly to potential investors via a crowdfunding platform. Investors and developers can even solicit support directly from the community in which they intend to build.
Most residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments across the country suffer from a lack of artistic vision, and this has hurt their aesthetic qualities, but more importantly, it exposes a lack of care for the daily needs of residents, the neighborhoods they live in and the cities they are part of. Steps towards embracing artistic diversity in the real estate world will pay dividends for years to come.
Image by Eve Picker