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Progress vs. Preservation: Community PR for the Construction Industry

July 31, 2019 Anthony Priwer

I took a ride across town recently in a taxi driven by a life-long Nashvillian. He was an older gentleman and he was angry. Not about Uber or Lyft eroding his business, but about real estate and construction developments that he believes have changed the city he loves for the worse. 

Progress vs. preservation

Was my cabbie just a grumpy old man whose personal nostalgia had wrongly convinced him that everything was better in “the good old days”? Perhaps, but perhaps not entirely. 

I moved to Nashville only a year ago, and because I haven’t lived the city’s history, I generally don’t know what used to be in the same locations where new buildings now stand. As a recent transplant, I also have an objectivity unimpeded by sentimentality, and as the cabbie pointed out to me the former buildings and businesses that he felt should have been preserved, I privately disagreed with him on the heritage value of several of them. He did, however, describe some buildings whose demise seemed to me to be a genuine loss. 

The cabbie’s other complaint was that he didn’t like the architectural design of certain newer buildings, assessing them as eyesores or potential eyesores in years to come if they didn’t age well.  

As an architectural or construction company, should you care about the opinions of some old taxi driver? Great cities must look to the future, more than the past, and the bottom line is that you need to build buildings to stay in business and to meet your clients’ needs. It could be argued, however, that as well as being profitable and functional, there’s priceless PR value in your buildings being loved.

As well as being profitable and functional, there’s priceless PR value in your buildings being loved

The other night, I saw a show at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. During the interval, I overheard a tourist talking to an usher about how much she admired the building – officially opened in 2006 with assistance from the Bradford Group – and asking about its history and who designed it. The architecture is neoclassical in style, but of course, new buildings don’t need to be made-to-look-old in order to be loved and become iconic. Consider, for example, another performance venue, the Sydney Opera House, whose design was anything but traditional when it opened in 1973 and which has become one of Australia’s proudest monuments.

So, what can architectural and construction companies do to improve the short- and long-term PR surrounding a building project? Here are some reminders:

  • Community consultation – Make it meaningful and genuine, not just a planning obligation that has to be met. 
  • Be flexible – If there’s a natural or man-made feature on your construction site that the community wants to protect, could you accommodate it by changing your building’s footprint or design?  
  • Build for the future – Will your grandchildren be proud to say their grandparent was responsible for this building? Will future generations fight to protect your structure from demolition, or will it at least be well regarded during its functional life?

The bodies that grant building approvals and the entities that hire building companies are composed of people who are also citizens, often local citizens who care about their community. So, having your company’s reputation enhanced by positive community PR might make them more likely to give you more work and help you grow your business. Plus, if you ever take a Nashville taxi ride with the same driver that I had, you’ll perhaps feel less nervous about telling him what you do for a living.  

If your company could use some assistance in the PR department, Bradford CRE/Construction PR would be happy to help.   

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