Tapping technology to create smarter urban development

by American City & County Contributor
Sep 04, 2018

By Bryant Hughes

When it comes to innovation, urban development projects are quickly falling behind the times. While key industries like transportation, housing, retail and entertainment make huge leaps forward with user experience and technology, the construction and development space still struggles to implement truly innovative technologies and approaches.

Even with large investment into branding, architecture, and on-site design, the digital experience of an urban project is oftentimes an afterthought. Outdated websites remain the industry standard, rather than elegant experiences that connect the people to a project and help create valuable interactions between city, developer, and community.

By 2025, it’s projected that more than 75 percent of people will live in an urban area with growth driven largely by millennial expansion. This growth leaves a massive opportunity to transform the urban experience by using design and technology to improve the development process, create more equitable and community-driven projects, and better connect with residents and patrons alike.

Putting technology into action

Even now, technology in the urban development space has fallen far behind other industries. Design and technology continues to be underutilized in a space that could see massive benefits from its usage. Increasingly, people are tapping the powerful computers in their pockets (and on their wrists) to connect to the world around them. People seem unable, or unwilling, to attend community meetings, but want to be reached where they already are - voicing opinions and sharing their feedback on their computers and mobile devices.


Even things as simple as city systems, including parks and transportation, are stuck in old lanes when it comes to connecting their communities. Broken websites or outdated PDFs mean residents can rarely find what they’re looking for. With the rise of mobile technology and mapping services, urban users and residents are seeing expansive exploration tools that leverage modern devices become widely available. Tapping into these resources will continue to become a critical value-add for developers and municipal leaders.


Technology can amplify awareness and vision for a project - even in the early stages.

A simple website and engagement tool can become a 24/7 hub of information, data, and potential feedback for stakeholders, the city, and others within the community. It can take the place of, or supplement poorly attended community meetings, traditional marketing campaigns, and act as a catalyst for communicating on behalf a project in the early stages. The vision for a project can be communicated to stakeholders well before a project breaks ground. This early buy-in to a project is often critical to ensure community support, key funding, and rally potential residents and customers from start to completion.

Technology is a key driver in engaging and retaining interest.

Residents and business leadership live online these days and technology is becoming increasingly important for developers, and critical for city leaders and economic development agencies committed to attracting long-term business growth. With 70 percent of consumers saying technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere, it’s absolutely critical to provide a rich digital experience that builds relationships and creates loyalty with business leaders and residents. Tapping digital resources to drive engagement is critical for developers, but also important for city leaders and economic development agencies committed to attracting long-term business growth.

In the not-so-distant future, new tools and features like augmented reality (AR) are quickly presenting the next wave of technological advances. Whether it’s selling a concept to stakeholders, the public, tenants, or other community members, tools like AR can allow people to not only “explore” spaces before they’re built, but also shine new light on the entire urban space surrounding them.

Technology continues to advance, change and grow to meet rising usage and demands. For developers and municipal leaders looking to ensure a strong and smart path to development in urban areas, it is becoming increasingly necessary to utilize technology and digital integration into their projects - from start to finish.


Bryant Hughes is a partner at Authentic Form & Function, a web design and technology firm specializing in bringing innovative design, technology and platforms to the urban development space. Bryant lives and works in Minneapolis, Minn., supporting a variety of clients and projects across the U.S.

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