In a world where populism is on the rise and people feel disenfranchised from the ‘experts’, it’s time to sit up and listen to what communities truly want from their neighbourhood.

Savannah de Savary new

The real estate industry has incredible power to transform and improve the lives of people who live and work in areas with development opportunity, from new homes, workspaces, shops and restaurants to the spaces in between the buildings themselves.

But with this power comes great responsibility and a need to understand the existing area, such as how people interact with spaces and buildings on a daily basis. From here, we can learn where the need is and how we can positively contribute to a community.

Renowned Danish architect Jan Gehl suggests that when designing new developments, quite often the main source of information for architects and designers is a collage of still-life photographs. But life is so much more complex than that. Successful architecture is rooted in the interplay between the form of buildings and life, understanding the networks, culture and daily activity within neighbourhoods and how new developments can help to improve the existing fabric of society.

Designers and ‘experts’ therefore need to immerse themselves in the neighbourhood they want to change and speak to its residents to understand the nature of the place. There are critics who may claim that engaging with local people is easier said than done. But a younger, more sociopolitically active generation sits poised for greater engagement.

PRS community residents

Look at the power of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old who, within the space of nine months, captured the world’s attention, affecting not only its vocabulary on climate change but its collective actions and targets. You only have to look at Extinction Rebellion to see how engaged the younger generations have become about the future of our planet.

There is a clear synergy between the priorities of our younger generations and the impact of responsible property development. The environmental footprint of development can be huge but so can the positive effect of low-impact design and sustainable development.

Developers need to enable communities to meaningfully engage on issues they care about. On a recent project on Built-ID’s Give-My-View platform, for example, pollution was overwhelmingly voted the community’s biggest concern. So the developer incorporated a pedestrianised street in its plans and invested in more greenery.

The growing activism of our younger generations has had a ripple effect on the collective responsibility of all stakeholders in the climate crisis. It’s time to apply this to real estate and consistently engage our communities where it matters for them: not just in terms of environmental considerations but for all aspects of development.

Responding to the wishes of communities on the ground isn’t just a democratic process for planning; it also ensures better-quality, more sustainable places for people to live, work and visit. Where everyone is engaged and incentivised to deliver a better outcome, the importance of diversity has never been more prominent – and yet it remains severely lacking in the voices heard under the current process.

We have the opportunity to create spaces that reflect the needs of society as a whole and a huge wave of social activism is reaching real estate that’ll ensure we do just that.

Savannah de Savary is founder and chief executive of Built-ID