On 22nd April 2021, we hosted a discussion on the urbanOvation platform as part of its ‘Reality Check’. We engaged fifteen individuals in what we were told was perhaps one of the most interesting calls the platform has had to date!

Here is a quick summary of what was discussed:

1. Why should 'community' be at the heart of every property development, and how do we do better?

We had four amazing speakers for this section, William Chamberlain at Counter Culture, Anthony Okereke at Royal Borough of Greenwich, Lethius Charles at Fight for Peace, and Jermaine Browne at re:shape.  

The conversation focused on why it is important to involve communities, particularly young people in decision-making about the (re)development of places. Young people are considered to be the future, and their voices must be heard so that existing and new developments are  relevant to them. Young people need to be consulted throughout the building life-cycle, not simply at the planning stage. Community anchors often build resilience in place through strengthening networks of personal relationships. Developers can tap into these networks to equip local stakeholders with the information they need to meaningfully participate, and ensure development is not just a box ticking exercise.  

2. What is community, and how do we create it?

Our three speakers for this session were Rochelle Burgess at University College London, applied anthropologist Sophie Goodman and Simon Sizwe Mayson at Makers Valley Partnership and University of the Witwatersrand. Gemma John chaired the conversation. 

We touched on the idea that ‘community’ is not singular but multiple and realised in different ways. Communities are not always visible. Rather, they exist in people’s minds and what becomes important is the ways in which people experience community. As Rochelle stated, ‘community is a living entity’. This led to a discussion about mapping communities, and as part of this, documenting the historical inequalities and experiences that exist within and between communities in place. This involves exploring whether people have the resources and ability to fully participate in decision-making processes, and what work needs to be done to bring people to an equal platform. Building for communities is about enabling and giving away power.


3. How do property developers collaborate with communities, and what's the value of doing so?

The final session focused on the practicalities of community engagement, and included Amar Benkreira, James Scott at Stories, Matt Griffiths-Rimmer at Hadley Property Group, and Nicola Wood at Grosvenor.

Whilst ‘collaboration’ has become a buzzword, speakers fruitfully explored the idea that engagement should be meaningful and happen with communities rather than to them. They argued that trust is a key ingredient for collaboration. This was explored in two respects: (i) Developers should stop to actively listen and learn to build connection and trust; (ii) Developers should be clear about where they want feedback to ensure honesty and transparency. In order to properly engage participants, developers should build time into a programme and remove any perceived barriers to engagement - such as the cost for the participant. Finally, it is important that communities can hold developers to account - and there is some kind of recourse for breaking promises.

In terms of next steps, we're hoping to host a follow-up call to explore some of the design elements relating to building a community.

If you have any questions or comments about this event and discussion, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch with us hello@humancity.co.uk. We would love to discuss new business opportunities.

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