Property companies and investors are starting to quantify social value in pounds and pence, so how can the industry achieve it?

I recently attended an Urban Land Institute event where this was the main topic on the agenda. Speakers from leading property investment and development companies, as well as consultants and advisors, spoke on a series of panel discussions over how to achieve it, how important it is and, crucially, how we can measure it.

Investors are now looking more seriously than ever at property that has longer term returns and can demonstrate clear positive impact on the communities it affects. They realise that property that has a lasting positive impact on citizens and the local environment can bring greater financial returns in the medium to long term, not to mention the positive commercial reputation that great developments can bring. Igloo Regeneration and Urban Splash spring to mind immediately as developers who are embracing this approach.

This 'social value' can be measured in terms of educational attainment, physical health, mental health, air quality, happiness, footfall for local businesses, energy costs, human interaction levels and how people use and move through public spaces, among others.

So one way we can achieve social value is by measuring how well developments achieve these factors retrospectively, and using this information to inform the design of future buildings and public spaces.

Digital technology is increasingly playing a part in this, by tracking pedestrian movement patterns through streets and squares and monitoring air quality, for example. The Centric Lab has already made some excellent progress in this field, by developing methods to measure the human experience of place with neuroscience.

But what about at the front-end? Well we are talking about how to make developments work for people, so surely the best way is to simply ask them straight-up? So often, public consultation is about asking people what they think of formulated plans and trying to convey to them that it won't have a negative impact on their life. It is often no wonder that we get more negative than positive responses when consulting communities.

If we want to give future developments the best chance of achieving social value, we need to engage earlier and on a level that is accessible to everyone. Let's ask them what they want from development before we present them with plans, whether it be about walking and cycling routes, the curriculum in local schools or simply what makes people happy. That way we can build this insight into development plans and give them the best chance of lasting success in commercial, reputational and socio-economic terms.

Streets Reimagined is a great example of a organisation that is helping create places with long lasting social value, by engaging on a new level with communities before plans are formulated and focusing place design around the needs of people.

We at Participatr are also trying to play our part by making engagement easy for both the agents of change and communities with easy-to-use online tools.

If we all embrace the pursuit of social value, everyone can win.

Written by Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr

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