A Place of Our Own

by | 09 May 2016

There’s no perfect formula for making a great place. As Don Briggs, executive vice president of development at Federal Realty explains in the Spring/Summer 2016 Knowledge Leader magazine, a sense of place can’t be described in words; much of it comes from intangible aspects such as experience and authenticity.

Increasingly, shopping malls and office parks are becoming out-of-touch relics of yesteryear. Mixed-use developments in both urban and suburban settings are the new blueprint for modern living. The best of them go far beyond a pastiche of shops to create new neighborhoods, each with its own sense of place. A few success stories include Samuels & Associates projects in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, and Federal Realty’s Assembly Row and Pike & Rose developments in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Bethesda, Maryland, respectively. The developments are setting the standards for denser, more dynamic, more human places to be.

Lina Storm, senior vice president and director of marketing at Colliers International, says that strong retail is the cornerstone when building a new mixed-use development. “If you have the retail, people will come,” she explains. “Retail activates the area, and it’s about creating spaces with vibrant eateries and breweries, for example, where much more is happening than merchandising.” And creating that means understanding which activities will draw a community and how to tie it all together with a common vision.

For Briggs, finding this balance means first considering the locality: What does the market want? What does the environment deliver?

Beyond a good tenant mix with strong retail components, the experts we spoke with point to the spaces between buildings as essential to placemaking, with a focus on pedestrian traffic and activity. In The Fenway, Samuels & Associates created new pedestrian-friendly streets with wider sidewalks, outdoor seating, green spaces and retail fronting as much of the buildings as possible. In one instance, they turned an alleyway into an inviting street leading to Fenway Park and lined it with restaurants, cafes and retail.

The efforts to engineer the “spaces between” at a new development tie back to how “people are craving a real experience with another human being,” says Briggs. He adds that millennials in particular want communal spaces where what he calls “humane” contacts are possible. “You know you’ve created a space when the community comes in, of their own accord, and plays bocce in the park.”

For more ideas on how placemaking is transforming new developments, download the Spring/Summer 2016 Knowledge Leader magazine.