Observe the development industry for any length of time and you’ll quickly notice that it’s usually older, whiter, and slower to change than the communities it seeks to build in. The field is notoriously cliquey, with relationships and networks presenting a barrier to entry for new players hoping to break into the business. But there are encouraging signs that the industry is finally starting to diversify. Whether you’re a young up-and-comer or an old hand, it’s smart to be aware of the changing face of development in Boston and around the country.
Working as an equal opportunity developer has always been the right thing to do, but increasingly, it’s also become good for business. Development teams that accurately reflect the neighborhoods of their projects are more likely to win the trust of stakeholders and community groups, smoothing the path to approval from local boards and agencies. They’re also more likely to be connected to a wider range of vendors and partners and have a better understanding of racially divisive issues in zoning and urban planning, like the historic use of redlining to divide communities.
To speed the diversification of the industry, major municipalities have imposed soft or hard requirements for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in the bids to develop public parcels. But as the Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto notes, those rules can only apply to city-owned land. However, Chesto has identified a new tool that cities are leveraging to influence private real estate transactions: the “Commonwealth Development Model.” This model presents a set of conditions for BPDA (Boston Planning & Development Agency) approval that would make diversity and inclusion a criterion on par with traffic and environmental considerations for agency permits.
It sounds ambitious, and it is. But Chesto accurately points out that this model offers development teams a great deal of flexibility in meeting their goals. While incorporating more people of color into development teams is one way to fulfill expectations, there are also other methods. These involve, “ that a percentage of space would be set aside for community uses or local retailers. Or maybe the developers could establish internships and mentorships, or prove they would create a path of success for kids, from urban schools to lifelong careers.”
Time will tell how effective the Commonwealth model will be in achieving the long-held goal of diversifying the development industry’s historically slow-to-change makeup. But innovative ideas like this are increasingly becoming the rule, rather than the exception, as a slew of change-hungry leaders and community figures seek to put their stamp on the development process in Massachusetts and beyond.
The Belfort Group has experience working in diverse communities throughout New England, helping developers win the trust and support of stakeholders from an array of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Contact us to learn how we can leverage our experience to help your project succeed, even as approval criteria continue to evolve every day.