Designing a Yes: Planners as negotiators, negotiation as planning

Designing a Yes: Planners as negotiators, negotiation as planning

On Thursday, November 21, current Loeb Fellows Helen Lochhead, Arana Hankin and Angelyn Chandler gathered in Austin Hall at Harvard Law School to discuss the importance of merging the worlds of negotiation and design, and how to increase benefits for all stakeholders.

The afternoon session was the second part of the Designing a Yes lecture series, a collaboration between the GSD and HLS. It was moderated by Susan Hackley (managing director, Program on Negotiation, HLS) and architect Karen Lee Bar-Sinai (LF '13, fellow at the Program on Negotiation).

There is always common ground

Helen Lochhead, an architect and urban designer who worked as director of strategic development in Sydney, Australia, titled her lecture "Developing Consensus on Major Urban Projects: Moving from consultation to collaboration.” She described negotiation strategies in two case studies from Sydney: Harold Park, which focused on housing densification and urban renewal, and Circular Quay, which focused more on infrastructure and tourism development.

The Circular Quay project along the Sydney waterfront created a 50-year plan and added 33% more green space connected to the harbor. It involved over 35 different agencies and public and private development projects totaling $5-6 billion, which were mainly under government control. Thus, Lochhead said, "too much was at stake not to work together.”

She described the process of working with the public, the local government, and the state, noting "there is always common ground.” She also pointed out the value of design in the negotiation process and said, "By making it visual, it makes it more real for people involved. They can see what we’re talking about, it’s not just words on paper.”

Face time is essential

Next, Arana Hankin, former director of Atlantic Yards redevelopment project and president of Queens West Development Corporation, gave a presentation called "Negotiating Anger” and described her experience working with stakeholders in the development of the Barclay Center at Atlantic Yards.

For the Atlantic Yards project, Hankin created a community process where none had previously existed. In most megaprojects, deals are struck between developers and friends in city government without leaving room for civil society to have a say.

After "plans were hashed behind closed doors” in the Barclay Center development, community members began to protest. Hankin stepped in to begin communications, balancing the voices and interests of many stakeholders.

She described a positive turning point in negotiations with residents following the acceptance of a community design plan, in which community members helped design a parking lot in the development.

Hankin concluded that, although there is often little room to incorporate public opinion, community members should have a say in megaprojects, small concessions can make an outsized difference, and "face time is essential.”

Time is an important part of the equation

Angelyn Chandler, an architect who has led large development projects and worked for New York City Parks Department, discussed the process of developing and restoring parkland, in which negotiation is involved at every stage. She outlined the main steps: project scope, procurement of funding, design, construction, maintenance, and operations and programming.

Chandler emphasized that time is an important part of the equation in negotiating developments. This includes situations like rebuilding the boardwalk infrastructure in the Rockaways following Hurricane Sandy, where construction took place around the clock in order to open by Memorial Day. This aggressive schedule left little time to gather input from residents. If the development process had not been as rushed, the city could have had greater public participation, more advance communication, and fewer angry community members. She added that frequent communication is critical in lieu of time.

Chandler also detailed the role of negotiations during the design process of the Freshkills Park Project, a 30-year site development to reclaim what was formerly the world’s largest landfill. At one point, a local community board refused to approve the master plan until baseball fields were included. While the project didn’t require the board’s approval, Chandler’s team made the change. They aimed to allow for small concessions when larger changes were not possible in order to assure community members that their voices were being heard.

Following the three presentations, Karen Lee Bar-Sinai asked the speakers how the skillset of a designer or a planner could help in negotiating a yes. Chandler replied that the acts of negotiation and design are very similar. They are not linear processes, they can be very messy, and time is a key factor for both. Hankin said that designing a negotiation strategy requires creativity. Lochhead added that thinking outside the box helps negotiating, as does visualization of options.

While negotiations, planning and design may not initially appear to be natural bedfellows, the experiences of Lochhead, Hankin and Chandler show that planning and design in fact play an important role in negotiating the successful completion of large development projects.

Rendering of Freshkills Park plan, courtesy of Field Operations, N.Y.C. Parks Department

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