April 1, 2013

What developers do

Often misunderstood by the very community to which they contribute, developers build parks, daycares and social housing, upgrade roads, finance art and libraries – and much, much more.

ANNE McMULLIN, President and CEO, Urban Development Institute

As the chief spokesperson for the development industry in British Columbia, I will be the first to acknowledge that the public perception of developers and development has not always been a positive one. Some communities become naturally resistant to changes in the built environment around them over time and it is, of course, developers who finance and implement those physical changes to the built environment.

As a result, community backlash to change is often directed towards the developer and a perception evolves that it is the developer – and the developer alone – who Is the underlying cause of community change. That is unfortunately the common misperception of the industry that I represent. The other misperception in this story is that the concepts of change, renewal, or revitalization are necessarily a negative.

The truth is, the role of the developer should not be perceived as the “cause” of community change and therefore be extrapolated as the “problem,” if in fact change can be truly construed as a problem. The role of the developer is twofold, firstly as a partner in supporting and implementing the urbanism demands of the existing community; and secondly as a responder to the demands of the market for housing, office space, retail, industrial employment space, or institutional development such as schools or hospitals.

Developers themselves are only constructs of the communities in which they operate, the broad economic environments in which they evolve, and the legislative and regulatory frameworks that the community requires developers work within. Anyone can be a “developer,” including a private individual or company, a local or provincial government, a non-profit or charitable housing provider, a community organization, or a regional university.

In their own way, most developers both in the City of Vancouver and across Metro Vancouver also contribute heavily back to the communities in which they operate. Developers build parks, finance and build daycares, upgrade local roads, sewerage and water infrastructure, finance and build social housing, finance and build rental housing, finance public art, fund local community organizations and public events, finance local libraries, build ice rinks and sporting amenities, and engage in a wide array of philanthropic and charitable activities.

However the misperception still lingers that developers are the cause of a “problem” – rather developers are a solution, a response, a societal construct, and the problem is not really a problem. In other words change is good, communities and neighbourhoods must evolve and they themselves both require and demand it. Developers are ultimately a necessity, or a tool, that provides solutions for the community within the bounds of the community’s own rules and regulations.

It is all too artificial and easy for developers to be made the scapegoat by opponents of community change and development. In forming one’s perception of developers, it is first useful to reflect on all the positive contributions of development – contributions that I will expand on in detail in future columns!

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