In a fast-changing world, we humans instinctively seek familiarity. But when it comes to places, familiar doesn’t need to mean old, repetitive or boring. It should mean ‘relatable’ and ‘made with you in mind’ because, ultimately, if you can relate to your surroundings and other people also using the space, you’ll feel like you belong.
In theory, this sounds straightforward, but our cities and towns are changing rapidly. Naturally, what those places are known for will change too. And if a place – or a space within it – can’t clearly define what it stands for, why would people visit or want to spend time there?
Simply put, people seek a sense of belonging, but too many places are experiencing an identity crisis.
This crisis – while challenging, difficult and probably also painful – is also an opportunity to reinvigorate the relationships between people and places.
Whether it’s a building, residential development, retail destination, town, city or even a county, being clear on your positioning and what you have to offer is key. But the crucial question is how to decide what that is.
The past decade has seen a shift in power. Audiences are getting together in their millions to share opinions on what they like and what they don’t.
If you listen – even without trying very hard – it’s clear that the old ‘build it and they’ll come’ approach doesn’t work anymore.
Some seek out places that enable lifestyle choices and build to rent is one response. Others need a natural mix, with people of all ages and backgrounds around them. For this group, intergenerational living is a promising proposition.
Appreciate both sides
Starting with an understanding of what’s going to attract audience interest is a good idea. But that’s half the story – it’s equally important to discover the truths of a place and what it can genuinely deliver from what’s already there, or the stuff that’s being added.
Without an honest appreciation of both sides, it’s very hard to bring the right things to the right people.
It’s about match making. This might sound like the basic laws of attraction, but in property development it happens less often than it should.
A well informed and clearly defined vision is also vital for the whole team of place shapers – from architects to local authorities and developers to planners – so that everyone can contribute in their own way to a common goal.
But right now it seems conceivable that the key to creating successful surroundings will come not from asking yourself,“what do they need?” Instead, try asking them: “What’s going to make you feel like you belong?”
Farhan Urfi is senior creative director at Small Back Room