November 17, 2014

Empowering Communities in Land Use Development Projects

Technology is helping community members have a voice in their community’s growth.

The Saint Consulting Group, a management consulting firm specializing in land use politics, and Five Corners Strategies, a grassroots public affairs firm, are humanizing community involvement in real estate development.

Since its inception in 1983, Saint has ensured that people have a voice in community development. With experience on over 1,800 projects, the firm understands that the impact that development projects have on people and communities is often big. They believe, therefore, that it’s critical that residents in an impacted area have a way to voice their opinions about the projects.

Through utilizing mobile engagement tools, they are now making it easier for community members to get involved.

One project Saint Consulting is involved with is a major development proposal in Oakland, California called Coliseum City. The city is promoting the ambitious project that will create 21,000 jobs over the next 20 years by developing three new sporting venues, an intermodal transit hub, mixed-use developments, and much more.

Saint uses the following tactics, powered by an integrated mobile and web-based software platform, to empower community advocates:

  • Advocates send a text message to learn about the program – in this case, they text “OAKLAND” to 52886
  • Saint replies with a text message that takes advocates to a mobile-friendly action center where they can take action and let their officials know how they feel about a proposal
  • Once the commission receives the message from the advocate, they can respond directly to the supporter, drawing them even further into the civic process
  • The most engaged and committed advocates attend open houses, testify at hearings, and call their officials

By allowing people to voice their opinions through their phones, the firm has seen “overwhelming response from constituents,” said Courtney Graziano, Director of Digital Strategy for Saint Consulting.

In the first few weeks since the campaign became public, thousands have engaged with the tools by sending letters about the project to city planning officials responsible for making decisions on the project.

Saint is getting the word out by passing out flyers at games and giving t-shirts to canvassers at events educating people how they can get involved simply by texting.
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“Oakland residents are passionate about keeping their beloved Oakland teams in Oakland,” Graziano continued. “The tools we are using now make it easy for anyone with a phone to have a say in the future of this city.”

The campaign has also started to go viral. For instance, a popular radio show host was advertising how people can get involved simply by sending a text message on his weekly show.

“One night, we saw that 300 new people joined the campaign – all from listening to a passionate supporter of the project tell people how they can make a difference – just by sending a text message,” Graziano said.

“The future of land use development is about using technology to make it easier to find new ways to reach people in their community, educate them on the projects, and empower them to get involved,” said Graziano.

Another consulting firm that specializes in community engagement to support land use projects is Five Corners Strategies. One of the projects they are working on is a development proposal for Washington, DC’s soccer team, DC United. The team is looking to relocate to a new stadium to be built within the District.

Five Corners has used innovative means to find and identify supporters of the project, including working with DC United to sponsor festivals like FiestaDC, the largest Latino festival in the Eastern United States, with more than 100,000 attendees in 2014.

One successful tactic they used was a live call-to-action at the event. Attendees were invited to text “ESTADIO” to 52886 to register their support for the initiative. Participants got to see their name appear on event’s main projection screen, creating excitement for everyone in attendance.

“Five Corners Strategies uses a combination of the latest mobile engagement tools and old school, tried and true canvassing and door knocking to engage the community on the projects we work on. People want to be involved in their communities – they just don’t always know how they can be. We help fill that gap,” Ben Kelahan, Partner at Five Corners Strategies, said.

These types of projects are leading the way in leveraging digital mobilization tools in land use projects by making it easier for community members to voice their opinions.

Jeb Ory
Jeb Ory is the CEO and Co-Founder of Phone2Action. Jeb loves to use technology to solve big problems. He's been a part of the NTEN community since he founded Phone2Action in 2013. Jeb lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Lea, and his daughters Sybil, 4, and Seneca, 7 months.