As multifamily developers, we already know that residents crave common areas that create a sense of community, and we take this into account when programming amenities and designing spaces tailored to each development’s residents.
But what our industry is increasingly seeing as a trend in common areas goes beyond simply fulfilling the needs of a development’s internal community; we’re also finding benefit in including public space and public art that serves the community at large.
Loving Thy Neighbor
Being a good neighbor is always paramount when creating a multifamily community. As developers today, we’re adopting more aspects of placemaking—a collaborative effort to strengthen the connection between people and the places they share, to help transform spaces into places that serve as an extension of the neighborhood.
With this focus on placemaking in mind, here are the five most important things developers should keep in mind when considering adding a sculpture, mural, plaza, or other exterior enhancement to a property.
1. Work Together
Collaboration is key, so it’s important to establish connections with public and private partners early on in the development process. If there’s a government representative interested in adding open space or public art in the community, loop them in at the beginning. Find out if there’s an art group to work with that can put you in touch with local artists.
For example, at Hubbard Street Group, we recently worked with a Chicago alderman and a neighborhood art gallery to bring a sculpture to the sidewalk area just outside our new office development, 412 North Wells, and luxury rental tower, HUBBARD221. Neighborhood and chamber groups were receptive about turning the previously overlooked space into a draw, as the sculpture will be included on a citywide art tour and is expected to bring more foot traffic to the area.
These types of partnerships are a great way to earn a reputation as not just a developer but also as a partner interested in the future of the community in which you’re building.
2. Mine What You Have, and Scale Small
As developers, we’re accustomed to thinking big. In this case, however, it’s smart to think about small ways to incorporate public spaces and public art into your projects. Think about what you already have to work with. If your multifamily development has an exterior wall near a public sidewalk, or if there’s a support wall along elevated train tracks near the property, consider a mural. That’s exactly what we did near our Centrum Evanston apartments north of Chicago, where we turned an existing unsightly wall into a true asset for the community while also giving residents a nice visual.
Another option in starting small with public art is to add a sculpture, especially if your neighborhood encourages art work in public entryways and byways. Some large metro areas even offer “rent-a-sculpture” programs, so you might not need to purchase a piece and could rotate art items for variety.
3. Design for Engagement
If you’re planning apartments in a neighborhood where there’s a lack of open space, consider creating a landscaped public plaza or a pedestrian walkway to give residents as well as neighbors an inviting outdoor area in which to spend time. To take it a step further, you might try introducing farmers markets, classes, and concerts to help energize a public space. Just understand, however, that hosting this level of activity requires infrastructure such as electric outlets and a water supply.
As part of the new Wicker Park Connection apartments in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, we dedicated one-third of the property to create a landscaped public plaza that’s set to open later in 2018. We’re calling it the Connection because it will add a much-needed pedestrian walkway between two busy streets and essentially connect the community to a new resource.
4. Honor the Surroundings, and Inspire Others
When planning a public space, it’s important to reflect on and complement a community’s unique aspects. Art that pays homage to the neighborhood or the history of the community can be very meaningful.
In Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, Hubbard Street Group is transforming a former Marshall Field’s warehouse into loft apartments as part of a new mixed-use project. To show reverence for the beloved Chicago store, we named the property The Field’s Lofts and are considering potential ways to honor its history.
5. Use Leverage As an Asset
Once you’ve created an energized public space, be sure to build it into your development marketing plan. Some have tried to quantify the value of including public space and public art. Research has found that rails-to-trails projects such as The 606 in Chicago, the High Line in New York City, and the BeltLine in Atlanta have had a positive effect on single-family home values. A British study suggested that the higher the proportion of street art images, such as murals, the greater the relative gain in home prices.
Taking these data into account, art and open spaces are clearly assets. Include photos and details about these features on your property’s website, and pursue media coverage of sculpture unveilings or grand openings of these spaces to create buzz about the development.
In sum, treat art and open space as you would any other amenity.