May 13, 2014

A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an older New York Times article discussing Buffalo's small-scale development movement. Highlighting innovative companies, like Buffalove, Penelope Green reports on a group of real estate investors attempting to preserve the city's historic neighborhoods and revitalize it's economy.

These "activist microdevelopers," as the NY Times describes them, are buying up vacant lots and abandoned homes throughout the city. Some rehabbed properties are rented out while others are sold. Seeking to modernize homes to meet the demands of a changing climate and society, Buffalo's microdevelopers must balance historical preservation with contemporary green building practices. 

Beyond sustainability, Buffalo's small-scale developers are promoting community interaction through the design of their projects. For example, the NY Times tells about how Buffalove Development purchased vacant lots, not to build new homes, but to create bocce courts for neighborhood enjoyment. 

Small-scale development may seem like a hip new trend, but it is reminiscent of old community traditions, like barn raising. Each weekend in Buffalo, volunteers gather to stabilize distressed properties. They board up doors and windows, patch roofs, and clean up trash-all in an effort to preserve the homes until someone else can purchase and rehab them. Despite not having an ownership interest in these properties, the volunteers understand that an abandoned home can undermine the integrity of their neighborhood--something they all have an interest in preventing. 

Tenets of Small Scale Development

Although King Pine Homes doesn't work in distressed communities, like Buffalo or Detroit, this article got me thinking about how our projects impact the communities in which we work.  In other words, how can we apply the sprit of Buffalo's micro-development movement to our own projects?

First and foremost, we need to identify what we're not: house flippers glorified on TV shows. We don't do the bare minimum to maximize profits at the expense of someone else. It just isn't rewarding enough to slap some paint on a house, replace carpets, and install some stainless steel appliances. Anyone can do that!

To the contrary, microdevelopers strive to:

  • Add value to homes through thoughtful design and quality craftsmanship; 
  • Address problems head on that others might be tempted to hide;
  • Create a quality, reliable, and safe product; 
  • Enhance a home's connection with the local neighborhood; and
  • Balance the demands of sustainability, resiliency, and historic preservation. 

In conclusion, real estate investors and developers all have a commitment beyond maximizing individual profits. Sure, we all need to make money, but we can't think about our projects solely in terms of dollars and cents. We have an opportunity to improve our communities by creating a great product, by doing right by our customers, and by understanding that a vibrant, sustainable neighborhood benefits all it's inhabitants.