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Winning Over The Neighbors: Try This
Tell them useful info!
When doing a multifamily project in an urban setting, developers and design teams will usually have some sort of process they need to go through with the neighbors and/or abutters. These processes can be quite extensive in some jurisdictions like Boston, where neighborhood groups have a lot of sway over what gets built.
Over the years, while sitting through zoning hearings for projects, I’ve seen a variety of approaches from a variety of teams, and sometimes I have to wonder - are some of them even interested in winning anyone over, or are they deliberately trying to be obtuse with the information they’re presenting?!
Presenting a complicated project to neighborhood groups is a skill all its own, and if you’re an owner, you want to be sure you have a good team who specializes in this. Local architects, even down to architects who work and even live in that jurisdiction or neighborhood, make a big difference. We’ve won jobs based on this fact in the past, and had projects go smoother as a result!
There are many tactics you can use to help make these presentations more effective, clearer, and more likely to get neighborhood buy-in, but a lot of them can be summarized by simply…creating graphics and presenting information that is *actually helpful* for folks.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
One of the biggest impacts a new larger building will have is how it interacts with the sun – and as a result, blocks, reflects, or allows light to neighboring buildings. Especially in tight urban conditions, like this one in Somerville, MA, it’s important to map this information in a realistic way.
Using Rhino and DIVA, we tested a series of building massings for a large mixed use building – we wanted to know which building shape allowed the most sun for the neighboring houses. The results informed the aesthetic and massing decisions we made, and helped solidify a design feedback loop based on data, not just speculation.
Just as important, this kind of analysis also allowed us to communicate clearly with neighbors about various options and be transparent about impacts. When developers are asking for neighborhood buy in, it behooves them to give neighbors *real* data!
Did this modeling technique take a bit more time than the usual types of sun studies, which just show shadows in plan? Yep. But what’s it worth to cut out a meeting cycle or two [read: 2-5 months] from an arduous approvals process? That’s what diagrams like this are often able to do.
What are some of your favorite diagrams and techniques to help neighbors understand a design proposal?
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