Economic Development, Real Estate, and Retail

What builds urban critical mass?

January 28, 2014
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616 expands its urban community
A look inside an apartment at 616 Lofts on Ionia in downtown Grand Rapids.

People create community.

It’s a simple enough concept, but making it the driving force behind a real estate development model can be complicated.

Residents first

Residential development is key to creating living and thriving communities.

Development models that center around residents create buildings and places that come with built-in soul.

As a result, these types of developments naturally attract retailers and growth, which is valuable to its new built-in community and surrounding neighborhood.

Bringing residents to a building first, rather than last, creates a natural attraction for the right retail tenant, which is based on the needs of the residents and what is best for the surrounding area —rather than a tenant that is ideal only for the broker.

Here in Grand Rapids, residential growth in downtown is happening fast, and on its heels will come many wonderful and sorely needed retailers.

Retail tenants that are selected by the people living, working and playing next door.

Critical mass

Lately, the development community here has been buzzing about “critical mass.”

Critical mass is an interesting concept. It is something we all strive for in the industries of development and urban revitalization.

Critical mass is, however, in my opinion, more of an iterative process than a conclusion. You could envision it as an upward spiral, rather than a straight line.

The proper definition of critical mass is the minimum quantity of something that is needed to start or maintain a venture.

Getting there

This begs the question: how many residents do we need in downtown Grand Rapids to reach critical mass? How many and what types of retailers or office space do we need?

We are blessed as a community by the fact that so many of our residents are eager to create a better urban environment and experience.

But I believe we have a long way to go before we hit that critical mass, whatever that magical number may be.

Thanks to this new influx of urban dwellers — the first we’ve seen in the past five years — we are and will continue to see a rise in new and better retail.

With this new retail, we will start to see more residents and so on and so forth, with the cycle of residential and retail development building towards that magical critical mass.

Striving for critical mass is what causes growth — and a healthy back and forth between residential development, retail development and the development of common space will ultimately lead to creating the best space for an area. Essentially, a community.

But, in my opinion, it all begins with people.

And, of course, we all know that when we do finally get a grocery store downtown, it will bring . . . more people! 

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