Multifamily Properties as Placemakers in the Community

How multifamily properties can create a sense of place and belonging

Similar to how Starbucks broke unprecedented ground with its “third place” concept focused on giving people a place to be other than home or work, experts in other fields have taken up the cause of placemaking and what it means for modern society. Commercial real estate players, including multifamily properties, retailers and office developers, have a unique opportunity to collaborate and create places where people want to build community. 

Society and Belonging

At one time, home served as the only respite from work and other daily routines. A person’s living room, balcony or backyard filled the need for quiet, relaxation and time to connect with family and friends. While home remains vitally important, people now seek out more from their neighborhoods and communities in terms of belonging. 

The Urban Land Institute has convened a Placemaking Council to examine the societal trend toward sharing, exchange and social connection. One council member, Heather Personne, describes it this way: 

“Across the real estate industry, there is greater interest in creating projects that are less focused on a specific asset class—multifamily housing, retail, or office—and more focused on creating a place where people want to convene. It’s about creating that third place that’s not necessarily where you live or work, but where people come together. Much of this change has been instigated by the millennials, who want to work and live differently, who are interested in the sharing economy. Even baby boomers are transitioning to living in more urban environments.”

Of note, this “urban” lifestyle of live-work-play applies to many suburban locations as well. In fact, suburbs have shown some of the most vibrant growth in multifamily rentership across the country. Many young families want that convenient and close lifestyle paired with the more open landscapes, schools, parks and other amenities suburbs offer. 

Creating Space, Time and Sharing 

Millennials and GenZers have moved away from a purely consumer focus when they seek places to hang out. While teens and young adults might have been the Mall Rats of the 80s and 90s, today they want to spend time in places without a sole focus on buying. 

Artisan food halls and pop-up art installations have taken the place of strip malls and movie theaters in many locales. Denver’s Selfie Museum, “Colorado’s First Instagram Art Pop-up,” and Meow Wolf are great examples of this new idea of place and community centered on pop art and social sharing.  

Placemaking Council member, Philip Palmgren, sums up: 

“Successful placemaking means offering people a place to exchange ideas and perhaps goods and services. The millennial generation continues to demand more with regard to a space. They want to just hang out without expectations that they’re necessarily going to buy something. They want a place of respite. So a place has to balance transaction and reflection. When you do that, the development community benefits because the value of their real estate goes up, and the community benefits because they’re able to have a space that they feel like they are welcome in.”

Architect Deb Ryan describes this generational need as one that emphasizes activity over aesthetics, saying “It’s about placemaking. Public spaces can’t just be pretty spaces, they have to be activated.”

Multifamily’s Role in Placemaking 

One developer in Washington, D.C., introduced a community-centric multifamily concept that exemplifies the idea of placemaking. The Apollo, located in the city’s H Street corridor, took into account the needs of the surrounding community when designing the property. 

Developer Maury Stern said

“It was important to us to bring people in, rather than just drop this big 400-foot-long building in the middle of the neighborhood and not allow the existing community to interact with it.” 

On the first floor, the Wydown Coffee Shop invites the neighborhood into the apartment building’s lobby. A WeWork location, Whole Foods, a bookstore and a bike shop round out the first floor’s retail and office complement, which serve to meet the needs of the neighborhood as well as Apollo residents. 

Multifamily developers in all markets can assess community needs when breaking ground on a new development. Seeking input from community stakeholders will help you focus on the unmet placemaking needs of the immediate neighborhood. 

For existing properties, redesign and redevelopment can open the door to new amenity concepts that foster a sense of community-building, both with your residents and the neighborhood at large. Your property can serve as a hub or sponsor for community events, if you don’t have the space to add dedicated gathering places. 

Need help reaching renters who are seeking community and lifestyle? Contact us to learn more about our years of experience developing transformative multifamily branding and marketing campaigns.

Posted By

Sara Bess