At the International Builders Show in Orlando this week I got to share the stage in a Spotlight session with six amazing design and creative professionals. Our task was to share 60 design ideas in 60 minutes. That means we each got 10 minutes to deliver 10 ideas. My fellow speakers were Dave Copenhaver of BSB Design, Tom Devine of Housing Design Matters, Ryan Decker of Bassenian Lagoni, Dawn Duhamel of Possibilities for Design, and Alaina Money of Fresh Paint by Garman Homes. Heather McCune, of Bassenian Lagoni pulled us together, outlined her vision and kept us on track.
My passion and perspective was the design of community itself. And I got to bat cleanup and bring it all together.
For those who have asked, here are the 10 ideas I offer for creating a place that is meaningful and will be somewhere people want to be.
#1 Respect and embrace the place. Every place is unique and has a history. Find the story of the land, and use it to create a sense of place that cannot be anywhere else. Even the name of your community. There are too many Stonegates, Harmonys and Creeksides. But there is only one Tehaleh.
#2 Create places that engage people. Everyone says that, but here’s what it really means. Engaging places allow people to:
- Interact with others
- Become transported
- Discover something new
- Affirm (or define) their identity
- Contribute to society
Find ways to create places and spaces where this can happen, from a small-scale event, to the way you think about a community park.
#3 Show. Don’t sell. No one likes the stale, faux, tired welcome center or sales experience anymore. These places are not for selling. That’s what your website does. The reason to build a space is to demonstrate community before it’s even there. Put it in a multi-purpose space that’s alive and animated. Help people answer, “What is life like here?”
#4 Redefine “retail.” And make it work. No market study will ever say “retail” works in a new community. And every single buyer wants it. Think creatively about ways to create places that become community destinations. They don’t have to be big grocery-anchored neighborhood retail. In fact, the smaller and more local, the better. Plan for failure and flexibility – that’s ok. And be ready to pivot.
#5 Bring passion to every detail. You can have flat, stark and empty. Or you can have a street and sidewalk that is interesting and different. You can put a chain link fence around a patch of grass and check the dog park box, or you can bring some color, and energy to it. People notice and it’s a point of pride.
#6 Avoid the shopping list of expected things. Everyone does the tot lot, pocket park, pool, meeting space and clubhouse. Have your own ideas. Dig deep. Do things that can only make sense in the place you are creating. Racetrack Park. The Campout. Have your own POV.
#7 Celebrate the spaces in between. More than just a place to sit. Little spaces of green and open space create character and define a neighborhood. Site them close to homes and open to the street inviting eyes and people in. They add a lot more value for people who live here than monuments, gates and fountains.
#8 Show your emotion. Your customers are people, going through life’s journey. They aren’t buying your brand. They are buying the experience your brand creates in their lives. Understand that and show up when it matters – like Alaina’s team at Fresh Paint did for a marriage proposal.
#9 Old character is real character. Don’t be afraid to mix and match. The coolest streets of old had different home types side by side. Color and texture matters.
#10 Always ask “how might we?” Do you do community gardens like everybody else, or do you take it up a notch and really claim that positioning? How might you? Maybe you offer a houseplant rehabilitation space and community gardeners teach how to keep plants healthier?
“How might we” thinking solves pretty much every creative challenge you face. Making it part of your everyday view on the world will help you, in Jane Fulton Suri style of IDEO fame, see things that have been right in front of you that you may have missed before.