Those who have achieved great success have a moral obligation to use their position and influence, as well as their resources, to become a force for good in the world. We’ve done this as a nation for a long time, helping reduce poverty and human suffering in many parts of the world. We don’t always offer our help for purely humanitarian reasons. Sometimes, providing development assistance is a way to cement strategic alliances or secure some other advantage for our own nation. Domestic development is much the same. For some developers it’s all about creating affordable housing, for some it’s about developing responsibly while protecting the environment, and for others it’s all about the profits.
I’m a big proponent of intentional development. And what I mean by intentional is understand the responsibility and the opportunity you have in your industry, and live up to it. In the business world, that’s known as the triple bottom line—looking at the benefits for people and the planet as well as profits. Social responsibility, environmental impact, and financial results.
Developers have the skill sets and the resources to help on a much larger scale than simply serving one person at a time. As a developer, you have the ability to revitalize neighborhoods, serve worthwhile causes, and improve lives by creating opportunity. I can also influence lenders and other developers to do the same. Our planning process at Aerial Development begins with the question: How can our projects create economically sustainable and thriving areas?
We did some research to find out what the top needs, issues, and interests are in Tennessee and in Nashville, in particular. We found that Tennessee had the fourth highest obesity rate in the country. (Since that time, Tennessee has improved somewhat and is now the sixth heaviest state, which is still pretty bad.) We also learned that Tennessee placed roughly in the middle of the pack (#22) in a 2017 ranking of the “greenest” states, which leaves a lot of room for improvement. And while Nashville has long been known for its music scene, in the last few years it has gained a reputation as a great city for visual artists and is known for its commissioned murals, public art, and street art. All of these struck me as worthy of being promoted by Nashville developers. They are also things we believe in and knew we could have a big impact on.
Consequently, the key concepts behind our newest and biggest projects are:
- Affordable housing can still be pretty – and inspiring
- Development and environmental protection can and should go hand in hand.
- Development projects can and should support a healthy lifestyle.
- Artists can create the authentic experience people are looking for.
These concepts serve as guiding design principles for Aerial’s most recent projects. First and foremost, I refuse to have my name associated with anything ugly. That would imply that the people living in the ugly little boxes many developers put up as affordable housing don’t want or deserve anything better. I don’t buy into that idea, and we’ve found that it is possible to create attractive yet affordable homes.
Larger projects like the ones we’re currently working on provide an opportunity to make a significant, positive environmental impact. For example, our Peace Row project is intended to provide homes for urban eco-activists. It’s a group of nine homes breaking ground this spring, designed to provide an eco-escape to the cliff sides of Shelby Hills. The homes are ecologically sensitive, making the best possible use of the natural light, and blending into rather than disrupting the surrounding ecosystem. And our 22-acre North Lights development on Trinity Lane utilizes green building techniques and incorporates public green spaces.
Our East Greenway Park project was specifically designed to promote and support a healthy, active lifestyle and meets the criteria for a health and wellness community. It’s connected to the Shelby Bottoms Greenway so that residents can enjoy the park, and it has an outdoor gym, walking trails throughout, and an onsite a bike repair station. In fact, we give each home buyer a bike to encourage them to get outdoors and be more active.
One of the things I’ve become most enthusiastic about is bringing art into our communities, our living spaces, and our lives. Aerial’s North Lights project is intended to be a sanctuary that inspires art and innovation. We have partnered with Imagine 1 on the multi-family portion of this mixed-use community which will, when completed, consist of 190 multi-family units, 90 town homes, 16 single-family cottages, 11 single-family lots, and up to 25,000 square feet of commercial space.
The basic design concept for North Lights is to construct buildings that are simple in architecture and color to serve as a blank slate for artists to create authentic works of public art, such as murals on the exterior walls of all corner units and street art throughout the community. We’ve brought artists into the planning and design process, because we want to make them feel like their fingerprints are all over the development. Our intent is to enable the creative class to not only be able to afford to live in Nashville, but also to exist in their most creative state.
The area could use a good economic boost—more jobs, more opportunities—and North Lights will help provide those. We’ve limited use of the commercial space to local businesses, no chains, for just that reason. And we hope to provide a restaurant space where local people who want to open restaurants can have a “practice” restaurant where they can try out their concept and menu for a few months before opening their own restaurant in a permanent location, where their fans will follow them and get them off to a great start. But this is not the Aerial Show. This is Aerial being a facilitator to help get some really cool things going in this area.
These are just a few examples of intentional development that can do more for people than merely put a roof over their heads. Real estate development, when approached intentionally, is good for people, good for the planet, and good for profits, which are necessary to fund future development efforts that will be a force for good in the world.
I encourage you to ask yourself, “How can I be more intentional?” with your work, your business, your resources, etc. When you figure it out, let me know. 🙂
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