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Are Buildings With Lots of Amenities Good for the Neighborhood?

Luxurious amenities packages are as natural to upscale buildings as doormen, a trend which is unlikely to let up until competition drops to much lower levels. After the location is decided and finishes are picked out, how else to turn heads than super-slick amenity and service offerings?

Different buildings have taken different approaches. In New York City, Madison Realty Capital’s Whale building includes a soccer complex. Brookfield Properties’ The Eugene building offers its residents curated hiking trips hosted by an outside provider. Countless buildings brag about their Peloton bikes, high-tech gyms, and classes. Some buildings offer membership club-type perks with local businesses. Partnerships with PropTech companies like tenant experience platforms or services such as Hello Alfred are increasingly commonplace. Co-working spaces are also frequently found in buildings, run by the landlords themselves for residents or office tenants. 

In many ways, these amenities are great. They offer another differentiator for tenants, allowing individuals and companies to position themselves more accurately with the type of services and features that they most appreciate, much like other high-competition products such as cars and smartphones. They also offer an opportunity for redevelopers and owners of older properties to even the playing field in the competition with newer buildings when more invasive alterations are impossible. 

In principle, buildings like this would also seem to be great for communities. The more people staying in a neighborhood, the more economic value that neighborhood receives. I won’t try to summarize the state of the urban planning literature on the subject, but I’ll quote the charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), one of the biggest forces behind the titular urban planning approach, which prioritizes walkable, mixed-use cities with plenty of public spaces: “Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young.” What’s more walkable than never having to leave your building?

But on the other hand, these amenities, particularly physical ones like gyms, co-working spaces, and food options, might actually be too local. While buildings have a lot to gain from keeping their occupants as satisfied as possible with the options available to them in the building itself, this can have a detrimental effect at the neighborhood level. People that are happily occupied within their buildings aren’t spending time out on the sidewalk; in parks; spending money at local businesses. Also from the charter of the CNU, “streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.” A community of locals with less reason to want to leave their buildings seems to fly contrary to that sentiment.

Whether it comes from a place of altruism or practicality, the most forward-thinking developers treat strong neighborhoods as a goal in and of itself. Vibrant communities, after all, are an excellent way to attract high-paying tenants. So what can these landlords and investors do to have the amenity cake and eat the good-for-the neighborhood benefits, too?  

The answer lies in building community connections. Owners can equip their buildings with all sorts of amenities, but sooner or later there will be something that they just can’t offer, whether that is axe-throwing lessons, hiking (as in the case of the Eugene) or niche grocery options. Partnering with neighborhood vendors for those things can supplement a building’s on-site amenity mix while stitching the property into the fabric of the local area. Additionally, owners can open their own buildings to the community, allowing neighbors and others to take advantage of the building’s amenities. While security is certainly a challenge in the face of increasing on-site traffic, the benefits could prove worth it. In the Whale’s case, Socceroof has embraced this strategy, positioning itself as a local destination for the community as a whole.

Whether owners equip their buildings with top-of-the-line amenity packages or not, they should realize that their buildings influence their surroundings as much as neighborhoods influence their buildings. Regardless if they have altruistic motives or simply want to help their next project in the area face a little less stressful of a zoning process, they should keep the neighborhood’s vitality in mind as they plan and build.

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