Construction is a necessary evil for developers, public contractors, local governments, and anyone who lives or works near construction sites like the Mid-Coast Trolley sites through University City. Disruptive and noisy with visual, air and noise pollution to mitigate, they are generally a strenuous period for residents, business owners, and city staff altogether.
Construction phases are an untapped opportunity to build public support for infrastructure and development in San Diego. Through ongoing community engagement, information sharing, and public art, construction sites can be animated and adorned to alleviate the inconveniences they cause for local communities. Here are examples of ways to mitigate construction on the public right-of-way.
Communication and outreach
One thing that developers and city staff do very well when the time comes to work on public infrastructures is to set several mechanisms to keep the community informed of where, what, and when the construction work will take place. There is also generally a hotline or a way for residents to reach out to project staff and ask questions or file a complaint. The Shift program, which is a program led by the San Diego Association of Governments to share information and resources about the multiple construction projects underway in the University City/Golden Triangle area is a great example of a communication process done well. There is rarely, however, any outreach done in preparation for construction. Route deviations, mitigation measures, support programs, temporary bike and pedestrian routes can be presented to residents and business owners to get their input on their main concerns and identify ways to address them. During construction, communication channels should be responsive, and when possible, lead to changes that incorporate feedback and problems identified by stakeholders.
Businesses located along corridors under construction are the most impacted by construction. Supporting them in their efforts to keep their businesses open is paramount to ensure the success of a construction project. One-on-one interaction before, during and after can help respond quickly to concerns regarding access. Signage and communications materials can be spread widely to make sure that people are aware that businesses are open and to provide information on how to access them. Programs can also be designed in partnership between cities and businesses to encourage people to frequent businesses.
Construction projects are also exciting! They mean that soon, there will be a new park, wider sidewalks or new asphalt on a street that was in need of TLC. Why not then make a celebration out of it and organize events prior, during, and at the close of the project? Block parties, open street events, project tours, and other creative engagement events can be organized to raise the level of excitement and make of this temporary inconvenience an opportunity to learn about the project and have fun.
Bringing art in
Construction sites do not have to be an eyesore. They actually bring on site several apparatus that could be turned into art projects. City staff and developers can bring the community together during an art-making event or work with an artist to develop colorful and interesting installations that can even lead to a permanent art project.
Keeping our sense of humor
There will always be inconveniences resulting from construction projects. Residents and business owners grow wary when streets and public infrastructures are in need of a spruce-up. There are examples of other cities who decided to accept this hard reality and just laugh about it. Through some simple signs, a hardship can simply become a fact of life which will ultimately lead to substantial improvement in the community. Coupled with the appropriate outreach and support programs, construction projects can bring humor into our projects.
Most people don’t know what a construction mitigation campaign is, but people notice the difference when communication, outreach, and creative engagement is put in place. As San Diego adds more homes and builds more infrastructure, developers and public agencies should consider creative construction mitigation to build public support, homes for everyone, and more transit for the region.
Circulate Planning has led several communications and creative engagement programs in San Diego and Southern California. Visit our Services page or reach out to Catherine Thibault, Director of Programs at [email protected] to know more or to discuss the development of a Construction Mitigation program.