Build small: a pandemic year of equitable, human-scale reconstruction

One year ago, small building: A Toolkit for Real Estate Entrepreneurs, Civic Leaders and Large Communities was published by ULI. After four years in the making, the publication has been well received by a wide cross-section of the industry for its candid and accessible defense of small-scale progressive development.

Capturing a growing movement in cities, suburbs and small towns across the country, the book represents a new approach to real estate development, based on the way we used to build. This raises the question of how to create a more humane, equitable and inspired built environment. As author Jim Heid explains, “small building asks a simple question to members of our profession: “Are you doing this to create products or to create a community? »

One of the aims of the publication was to create a call to action for real estate entrepreneurs to work at the local level where they can make a meaningful difference. Longtime ULI member and Minneapolis infill developer Michael Lander calls it “small by design.” According to Lander, “For decades people thought that developers doing small projects were just doing it until they learned the ropes. Then they could go on to do ‘big’ projects. But No. My career and my projects have been small by design, because that’s what I want and what I’ve been doing for 40 years.

Excerpt reserved for members: Small Developer Challenge: How to Acquire the Yard

Built from real-life lessons heard over eight years of small-scale development forums, hosted by Heid in conjunction with ULI, small building contains a wealth of experience drawn from across the country. It was these lessons – both of great success and positive neighborhood transformation – along with the long pain and suffering of creating small projects, that catalyzed the book. Heid explains, “It seems like it doesn’t matter where we go – big city, suburban corridor, rural community. Red state, blue state. The message was always the same: communities want to be small, but regulations and financial markets make it harder than it should be. So I wrote the book to try to change that trajectory – explaining the potential of the little ones, while helping to illuminate the challenges. I was really hoping the industry could come together and do what was necessary to develop this option.

Theo Mackey, an urban planner and planner from New York, captured this imperative well in his recent book review for city ​​newspaper“Given the important role that small projects like these have always played in growing and reinventing cities, local authorities need to be reminded to focus on how their policies affect this key but overlooked part of the market. urban land. small building serves this purpose, in addition to providing a process map for potential developers (and other promoters) of small, high-quality developments. Heid articulated both the political and business case for a modern iteration of the kind of incremental growth that has shaped urban forms for millennia. Instead of pursuing a singular, shiny vision, communities that want to experience growth that’s both sustainable and attractive should encourage a variety of developers to produce lots of little gems.

So with 12 months behind us, what was the response to small building?

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Heid. “The book was published in the midst of the pandemic, and frankly, I was concerned that given the predicted death of small businesses – which are inextricably linked to small development – ​​the book would come out with a groan. Instead, people bragged about how timely and prescient it was. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say: This is what we needed for a long time.

One of the most interesting aspects of small building It’s that people seem to find their own definition and manifestation of “Small” through the book, based on their personal passion:

  • Central housing missing
  • small houses
  • Secondary accommodation
  • The case of local businesses
  • A gateway for emerging developers of color, who want to rebuild their neighborhoods
  • Business owners who want to own the real estate they use
  • Urban planners who want to create thinner blocks and large developers who are looking for an advantage to differentiate their project

The book covers a wide territory, resonating with a broad audience seeking to address a range of issues in the built environment.

(Jim Heid/ULI)

This broad applicability and the different attitude towards real estate development that small building champions, is tied around the single idea of ​​building community and better places. This concept has been the subject of an episode of the All coworking podcast moderated by thought leader Jamie Russo, following her participation in the 16and Small Scale Developer Forum as a panelist on the future of coworking. According to Russo, “I think the ethos of Small and coworking really overlap around a passion for making a difference in people’s lives locally, through the built environment, and through building community. .”

Another defining characteristic highlighted during the 16th Forum was the incredible need for community participation and communication in the growth and evolution of the project. Because small-scale projects are so grounded in the community – and in many ways reflect the hopes and dreams of a community – the bar for contribution and communication is raised. That and the fact that the developer is the face of the project, not slick PR firms or expensive zoning lawyers. Small requires a professional approach to dialogue and community input, always led by one of the directors.

This means that developers have to be “all inclusive”, which is not for the faint of heart. Molly McCabe, a small developer from Montana and former chair of ULI’s Responsible Property Investing Product Council, echoed that sentiment, saying, “After reading small building, you will know if you are made to develop Small. Development is difficult no matter what. Small requires vision, courage, perseverance, creativity. You must be unstitched and ready to pivot. You need to engage with your community in a deeply personal way that a large-scale developer, investor, or financier is not, and realistically cannot be. If it’s for you, you’re gonna lean in and say, oh, yeah, I’m in! I bet everything! Otherwise, you’ll find yourself wishing for a lot more predictability, more compelling returns, a more easily understandable capital stack. There’s no “good or bad” here, no “better than”, it’s just a matter of preference. But, there is no doubt that by the end of this book, you will know which camp you are on.

Heid says the book is more robust because of the time it took to write, in part because he was developing two of his own projects at the same time. Heid says, “Had I finished the manuscript on time, it would have been a very different book. Those extra two years of wasted sleep sweating my project funding, managing approvals and construction taught me nuances that you just can’t learn in graduate school. It’s those lessons about “what they don’t teach you in real estate school” that I have tried to capture in each chapter of the book. This candid explanation of the DNA needed for success, along with the book’s highly graphic and accessible design by John Hall Design, made the book attractive to universities as a new type of textbook. But not just for those earning degrees in real estate. Donald K. Carter, FAIA FAICP, LEED AP, Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture, says, “The toolkit and case studies will be invaluable for both new and experienced small developers. small building is an excellent text for real estate and architecture curricula.” As such, the book is embraced at places such as the North Carolina State University School of Design, the University of Miami’s Design + Urbanism program, and the University of California at Berkeley, to name a few.

At the same time, the book has been well received by professional training programs for real estate entrepreneurs. Richmond Housing Services, a California-based nonprofit, purchased 40 copies to give to participants in their Emerging Real Estate Developers program. Nikki Beasely, CEO of Richmond Housing Services, explained their decision to use the book as a central part of their program, “small building hits all the key points on the added value of small infill sites in neighborhoods. I had to incorporate the book into our organisation’s curriculum geared towards new BIPOC developers – to remind them that their projects matter and that small site development has a place in the affordable housing conversation.

ULI district councils in St. Louis, Kansas City and Indiana have all started using small building as a playbook for ULI’s Real Estate Diversity Initiative (REDI) because the book’s approach, inspirational stories, and practical lessons speak specifically to the type of young, emerging developers that REDI targets.

Other innovative ways for the book to reach its audience are through district council programming and independent bookstores. Heid has been invited to speak at several district council events, bringing Small’s book and message to communities across the country. In several cities, ULI Young Leader or NEXT cohorts have organized book clubs to read chapters in advance and discuss experiences and lessons, often via zoom with the author. And more recently, a presentation of the book was featured on the TEDx circuit, reaching a whole different audience.

Following the pandemic and its impact on communities, the way we work and small businesses, the world continues to demand new approaches and new solutions for how and what we build. With publication of small buildingULI continues to demonstrate leadership in the built environment and better ways to build communities.

small building is available for purchase from the ULI library Where Amazon. The 17thand The Small Scale Forum is scheduled for May 22-24 in San Antonio is now open for registration.

Learn more about small-scale development:

Jennifer C. Burleigh