How developers can engage younger people in city-making

Talk to anyone in the UK Real Estate industry about community consultation and they will say how hard it is to engage with people under the age of 55. Unless they are directly impacted by regeneration or development taking place right on their doorstep, they won’t turn out to give their views. And even then, it’s still hard.

The assumption is made that they are just not interested. They are so busy interacting online, so the trope goes, that they have lost interest in their physical environment. The decline in voting amongst the under 35s only strengthens this picture of disengagement.

However research undertaken recently by Commonplace, the digital platform for places, would suggest otherwise. It shows that stereotypes of local apathy and disinterest amongst younger people are untrue.

These people are in fact insightful, analytic, practical and full of energy for positive local change. But their voices are often inadvertently blocked – because the planning conversations happen away from the places they find comfortable. Whilst for the over 55s it might be a local meeting, for the under 35s it is online.

Digital communication connects residents, developers and local authorities to discuss the needs and potential improvements to an area. There are more than 300 of these digital conversations happening throughout the UK, many of which are around planning applications. In total they have attracted over half a million people.

Commonplace sampled the responses of people under the age of 35 from 20 of these conversations, chosen to reflect a variety of locations and project types (housing, highways, town centre regeneration, neighbourhood plans and private development). They included projects in Waltham Forest, Leeds, Bristol, West Norwood and Purley.

The results show that younger people are more motivated by the ‘quality of life’ that a place has to offer than by narrower economic factors.

One of the more startling findings, given the growing dominance of online shopping, relates to the high interest in the availability and variety of local High Street shops. Of the topics discussed, this was the single thing they talked about the most, with just over 8% of responses referring to it explicitly. This was the case in both cities and rural towns.

There is useful data here for those who decry the death of the High Street and want to do something about it. Many younger people wrote passionately about how local retail is critical as part of the blueprint of a successful community. One respondent noted a need for “Great shops with friendly workers who work hard to create community and relationships.”

 

Other key findings included:

  •  Overall younger people are most interested in the amenities that a place has to offer – whether that means shops, children’s play areas or green spaces. Over 29% of the responses discussed these aspects of their neighbourhood;
  • They are least vocal about economic factors when talking about changes to their area. Only 9% of responses talked about issues such as the availability of affordable housing, training and employment;
  •  They are keen to discuss the ease of getting around their area, whether on bike, walking or by car. Their current user experience, particularly of road safety, is reflected in comments, many of which related to specific to unsafe aspects of the roads (e.g. junctions) and make suggestions for improvements.
  •  Younger people who live in rural areas are much more focused on health and well-being than their more urban counterparts (almost double: 22% of the discussions in rural towns compared to 12% in cities)

 

MIPIM’s research is heartening. Younger people are waiting. And waiting, and waiting… to be talked to about the place they live, work or socialise. But too often when it comes to these local conversations, there is nobody there.

They are the future of every area, and there is a huge opportunity to engage with them using the right mixture of tools and techniques. Commonplace’s research shows that when they are offered a high-quality online opportunity to interact, they do so with gusto.

About Author

Mike Saunders

CEO Commonplace. I co-founded Commonplace, a digital tool for neighbourhoods and property developers. We help neighbourhoods understand and act on their needs, and property developers reduce their planning risk and costs. Commonplace is funded by Bethnal Green Ventures and Nominet Trust.

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