Why real estate planning and development is becoming more people-centric

An insight by Tania Toma and Hamzeh Magableh

August 10, 2023

It is undeniable that the real estate industry has undergone a significant shift towards a more human-centric and experiential approach in recent years. No longer are planners primarily concerned with the physical aspects of design and plot ratios, but an increased priority is being placed on the needs and desires of people. Urban spaces are being designed to create more inclusive, accessible, and enjoyable environments.

In recent years, the concern of creating people’s experiences beyond physical spaces has characterised most of the real estate subsectors. For instance, the retail sector has evolved beyond mere shopping and dining, placing equal emphasis on the dining experience as the food it offers. Office buildings are now being designed to create positive experiences for their occupants rather than just workspaces.

Increased awareness of the environmental sustainability of the urban form has been another key trend across all sectors of the real estate industry over the past five years. The master planning sector is responding to this trend by creating environments that reduce the need for travel, thereby reducing carbon emissions and creating more sustainable cities. In a survey conducted by the American Planning Association, 81% of respondents said that the most important aspect of a well-designed community is that it is easy and safe to navigate on foot.

In the MENA region, the master planning community faces the task of developing pedestrian-friendly spaces and communities that promote healthier and more sustainable lifestyles, all while considering the challenging weather and climatic conditions prevalent in the region.

The incorporation of both green and blue spaces is another aspect of the more environmental focus of master planning in recent years. To enhance liveability and support wellbeing, a wider range of green spaces (parks, gardens, etc.) and blue spaces (water bodies) are being incorporated into master planned developments. This trend is partially driven by the growing understanding that biophilia is key to our collective consciousness and well-being.

Enhancing the well-being of residents has long been high on the agenda of master planners, with other sectors of the development community coming to share this vision more recently. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people who live in well-designed neighbourhoods are more likely to engage in physical activity, socialise with their neighbours, and report higher levels of overall well-being.

Community engagement and collaboration are joining environmental sustainability on the agenda of master planners. To create spaces that genuinely cater to the aspirations of residents, planners are increasingly involving local communities in the decision-making process under the catchphrase ‘For the people, by the people’. A recent report by the World Economic Forum found that over 80% of people living in cities sort a say in how their cities were being run, with another study published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research concluding that the involvement of community members in the planning process leads to higher satisfaction and a stronger sense of ownership and commitment to the project.

Smart and sustainable technologies are also shaping the planning and development process. By integrating smart and sustainable technologies such as renewable energy, waste management, and digital connectivity, planners & developers are creating resilient, efficient and eco-friendly projects that are more responsive to residents' needs. Developers are making increased use of data analytics and digital tools to better understand the needs of residents, including the mapping of customer and employee journeys to create smart, tailored experiences.

With an eye on the above trends, people-centric planning and development aim to promote practicality, inclusivity and accessibility. The success of integrating residential, commercial, and recreational spaces to create vibrant, diverse, and self-sufficient communities will be largely driven by the ability to understand and apply the lessons emerging from the more people-centric and experiential approach to master planning now being implemented.

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