10 Steps to a Successful Urban Infill Project

Imagine a project with stunning architecture. You've completed months of reviewing and modifying concept alternatives. Your world-class design team is sure the project will capture numerous industry awards for its creative design. But after two hours of false accusations, name calling and overstated concerns regarding traffic, crime and loss of property values at the local city council meeting, you are asked to cut the project in half, increase setbacks to 300 feet, build a dog park on the other side of town, or maybe just leave. Sound familiar?

Entitling and developing commercial and residential projects in urban environs requires special care. While many urban areas are on the cusp of a new generation of infill development, misunderstanding and community opposition can be roadblocks for even the best designs. With multiple stakeholders — from government officials to historical societies and homeowners' associations — infill urban development is not for the faint of heart.

Reducing the Risks

The risk of the entitlement game can be greatly reduced by taking a thoughtful approach to the process. Increased anti-growth sentiment on the part of residents, as well as political pressure, demand that an entitlement program be based on trust, openness, and consensus-building. This doesn't mean compromising design integrity. In fact, careful execution of the top 10 criteria can actually result in stronger design solutions and a smoother process.

It's important to note that building a consensus does not mean that everyone must agree. It's about showing respect for different opinions, developing relationships and identifying shared goals to establish positive public opinions that will bolster the project's chances of gaining community and government acceptance. The objective is to cultivate supporters, neutralize the masses and expose the extremists.

Fundamentally, however, the following 10 principles must be addressed:

  1. Create the vision

    It's about design, not density. Establish the vision early, connect to the local setting and look for ways to build partnerships for implementation. Successful urban places have an image that attracts people.

  2. Know your market

    Do your homework. Understand the competition and the market forces that influence the project.

  3. Understand the issues

    Every community has its own set of unique characteristics and issues that guide solutions. It's essential to have a good understanding of the marketplace, environmental setting, regional influences and financial aspects. Recognize that there is no single solution.

  4. Find the public benefit

    That point can't be overstated. Whether the client is private, public or a partnership, the benefit for the city and community must be clear.

  5. Pay attention to the stakeholders

    Attention to stakeholders and the local community must occur upfront. Meet and discuss in small groups.

  6. Establish trust

    Trust is not only established by sharing knowledge, but also by listening carefully. Be honest, encourage participation from everyone, maintain neutrality and work toward win-win goals.

  7. Educate decision makers

    Sound design and good taste are difficult to describe, and even more difficult to legislate. Decision makers must be educated. Meet one-on-one, provide solutions and overcome stereotypes with design.

  8. Utilize the media

    Always take the high road. Keep the message simple. Talk about how you are helping the community not “the project.” Anticipate the objections.

  9. Incorporate authenticity

    Find out what's unique to an area; understand the contextual history and craft design concepts that respond to an area's physical, social and historical environment.

  10. Have patience

    Early on, it is important to provide guidance and establish credibility, but it's also important to step back, listen carefully and let the process evolve.

A Real-World Application

Implementation of the Top 10 list has been key to the success of the Edinger Corridor project — a 350-acre revitalization plan for the City of Huntington Beach, Calif. When completed, this gateway area of Huntington Beach will encompass entertainment, retail, offices, restaurants and a mix of rental and for-sale housing.

Guided by a strong vision established by working with the city, a community outreach program was launched to solicit feedback and to educate stakeholders about the revitalization efforts.

Through the process, supporters were identified, adjacency issues were addressed and the public benefit was clearly defined. Increasing the economic vitality and enhancing accessibility and the visual quality of the area address business stakeholders' needs. The public benefit for residents included providing restaurants and long desired entertainment opportunities.

Implementation of major public and private improvements in the Edinger Corridor are under way with the conversion of the old Huntington Mall into a lively gathering place for community activity.

Ken Ryan is a principal with the Irvine, Calif., office of EDAW and is mayor of the City of Yorba Linda, Calif. For more information, visit www.edaw.com.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.