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Here’s How Experience Design Turns a Place From a Development to a Community

Aerial photograph of an urban neighborhood

With ongoing challenges in our urban core and a new Denver administration, what are the most attractive markets for development in and around Denver? In a market where ‘experiential development’ is bordering on an overused buzzword, how do you set a development apart and create sticky experiences that keep people coming back? Are the suburbs cool now??

Those were just a few of the questions SideCar Founder and President Sarah Cullen had for two of the founders of Natural Object, a Denver-based real estate firm working at the intersection of development and design, at her recent ULI Partnership Forum event.  

Sarah is one of six senior real estate professionals locally who were invited by ULI to lead and mentor a group of young leaders through monthly forums. Last month, you may recall Sarah and her ULI Partnership Forum team field-tripped to JNS Architecture and Interior Design to learn about how designers are reimagining assets in our center city to meet the moment. 

This month’s focus? Picking the brains of industry vets Justin Croft and Chris Woldum about some of the exciting developments happening just outside the bounds of downtown.  

Together, the guys at Natural Object bring over 25 years of development and leadership experience (previously with Zeppelin, now with their own firm). This team is making moves with their upcoming development in the west of the South Platte River in Denver. Here were a couple of the key takeaways from the talk: 

Aim for creating community – not just development.

The words “development” or “redevelopment” have gotten a bad rap in many communities, and not without good reason. Natural Object aims to buck that trend by preserving and incorporating the story of the neighborhood from the start of each project. By understanding community context and needs, they aim to ingrain their developments in the community in a way that meaningfully enhances what’s there. 

 

Make things walkable!

Within urban residential oceans, it’s vital to create communities that encompasses aspects of a 15-minute city. Impacted by drastic infrastructure decisions and a history of disadvantageous redlining, the West Area of Denver needs equitable investment that brings in grocery stores, outdoor recreational areas and pedestrian safety improvements. Natural Object is looking to fill that need through their developments as they recognize the need and opportunity to provide inclusive spaces through accessible F&B, retail and office spaces. 

 

Find your identity.

Brand identity is crucial to effective placemaking. A well-branded place creates a distinctive and cohesive image that resonates with people, fostering a sense of belonging, attracting visitors, and driving positive perceptions of a place’s unique character. And those positive perceptions have been shown to have a positive economic impact within a community. 

 

Experiential development may be an overused buzzword, but in its truest form, it can create communities that are set up for long-term success. Keep an eye out for Natural Object’s development in West Denver and be sure to lookout for our next ULI Partnership Forum recap! 

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