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It takes a long list of people and organizations to make a city thrive—from business owners and nonprofits, to lawmakers and individual community members.

Another key player in this equation is developers: The people and companies that build the residential, office and retail space that’s essential to everyday life. For this reason, developers also have an outsized role in facilitating positive change—what and where you build has a major impact on the city and its inhabitants.

This role is more pronounced now than ever before. Cities across the country are recovering from, but also continuing to endure, the pandemic. And cities are undergoing major transformations as a result. So what can developers do now to live up to their role, and to the responsibility it entails?

To start, developers can meet the immediate need for more affordable housing. The pandemic highlighted just how vulnerable some people are in today’s housing market. Indeed, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the United States currently has a shortage of almost 7 million rental homes that are affordable to households at or below the federal poverty level. This shortage is in itself a pandemic of sorts—it exists in every state and every major metropolitan area.

For this reason, developers should prioritize equitable projects. This may entail building affordable multi-family rental housing, or repairing and retrofitting existing affordable units. For inspiration, look to New York: Governor Hochul recently announced the completion of a $28 million affordable and supportive housing development in Brookhaven. This public-private partnership is an exemplar of the type of positive work developers can accomplish.

Meanwhile, there’s another opportunity for developers to shepherd positive change: The reimaging of now-underutilized office and retail space.

At the height of the pandemic, millions of office workers packed up and worked from home. And now, it looks like many won’t be returning—or at least returning full time. With virtual and hybrid work now the status quo, developers can transform offices into more dynamic spaces to accommodate this new reality. Further, developers might reimagine those spaces entirely, transforming unoccupied offices into residential units, experiential retail or something else entirely.

Similarly, malls across the country sit largely empty with some finding innovative solutions to fill the vacant space: transforming empty storefronts into rental housing.

Of course, physically building these projects is just one part of a developer’s role. Developers can also drive positive change by adopting more proactive development processes like ensuring projects are sustainable and upgrading or replacing outdated (and sometimes dangerous) infrastructure.

In the wake of the pandemic, developers can also ensure their projects have cutting-edge plans for public health. The pandemic has opened opportunities for smart solutions in city development, like technologies that aid in contact tracing and effective response measures.

As developers stake out new projects in 2022 and beyond, it’s crucial to ensure that they’re people-centered. That’s how to drive positive change and it’s a strategy already gaining momentum. In response to the pandemic in Bogota, the city added 52 miles of temporary bike lanes. Meanwhile, Milan has established a public-private food aid system. And in South Korea, several community health centers helped the country quickly respond to COVID-19 outbreaks. Make sure your next development is pushing its city in a more positive direction, too.


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