November 09, 2012
Fast Company — by Ariel Schwartz
People don’t often show up to town hall meetings unless they have a problem. That means in many cities and towns, there is a gaping hole where creative community voices should be. In Seattle, Swedish developer Skanska is trying to make a dent in the problem by letting the community influence what shops and restaurants go on the ground floor of a new 13-story office building near Amazon’s headquarters (the neighborhood is sometimes called “Amazonia”).
Before beginning construction, Skanska decided to ask the local community what they would like to see in the open-air market space on the first floor of the yet-to-be-constructed building. But Skanska isn’t asking anyone to show up to in-person meetings. Instead, the developer is using an online service called Popularise that lets people submit ideas for local projects and vote on them.
There are 36 ideas for the 400 Fairview project in Seattle, including a Babes in Toyland sex toy store, a brewery, a hot yoga studio, an indoor bocce ball court, a Stumptown Coffee shop, a blow dry bar, and a sushi restaurant. For anyone who isn’t digitally inclined, Skanska has also set up chalkboards at the project site for people to write down their suggestions.
Just because an idea gets the most votes doesn’t mean that it will end up in the building; rather, Skanska is talking to a variety of retailer (based on the Popularise ideas) to determine who will be the best fit. By tapping into what the community wants, Skanska can ensure that small businesses thrive. After all, if a large portion of the community is in favor of a brewery, that business will probably do well.
“A lot of development in Seattle being is being done by office and residential developers, and nobody claims the ground floor. They don’t spend any time and attention on it, and after the building is built try to lease it up with whatever they can,” says Lisa Picard, EVP of Skanska Commercial Development. “We’re working with a lot of [retailers] early on to say this is an opportunity to help shape this.”
The ultimate goal is to create a space that facilitates community–something that could surely be helped along by asking people what they want to see. Says Picard: “If this market hall could cause someone to put their iPhone down and just be, that would be one of the most powerful experiences we can do.”