“Think globally, act locally” is a phrase used in many contexts, and it is particularly pertinent for affordable housing developers. The severe shortage of low-cost homes is a local issue playing out on a global stage. At its heart, the lack of quality housing for low-income families directly affects local communities.

However, with 1.6 billion people currently living in inadequate, unsafe or overcrowded housing*, this local impact is magnified on a national and global scale. This creates challenges for governments, businesses and multilateral institutions. In seeking to address these concerns, affordable housing developers require a dual perspective that unites international scale and insight with attention to unique community needs. 

Economies of scale

First and foremost, international businesses benefit from economies of scale. They can search across multiple markets around the globe for the best price and negotiate discounts on large contracts for materials and services. This principle is central to Planet’s work in Brazil, where scale allows us to deliver housing at an affordable price while providing residents with smart technologies and services to enhance their quality of life. At the world’s first affordable smart city, Smart City Laguna in Brazil, the scale of our project to build 1,800 homes was sufficient to establish a paving blocks factory onsite, providing savings up to 35% with respect to traditional of building materials procurement without self-production.

As well as delivering efficiency savings, a global perspective can help provide a better product by allowing international businesses to seek smart solutions in multiple markets. New hotspots for technology development are springing up around the world – from Campinas in Brazil to Bangalore in India. Companies with an international presence can engage all these high-tech hubs to find the latest solutions for building more efficiently and enhancing the quality of life in urban environments.   

Universal solutions

Global thinking is not just about finding the best solutions from around the world, but applying lessons learned in one market to challenges encountered in another. Understanding where communities on opposite sides of the world share similar circumstances can help developers deliver quick solutions to their residents’ most pressing needs. 

At Quartiere Giardino, our smart neighbourhood project in Milan, Planet helped regenerate the district by employing Community Managers to engage local people in enhancing community life. These managers were supported by the Planet App, which provides a forum for residents to communicate and organise community activities. The result of this engagement has been an increased sense of collective ownership on behalf of residents, paving the way for local people to take over from Community Managers while reducing mistrust and feelings of insecurity in the neighbourhood.

Our experience in Italy has informed our approach in Brazil. Community engagement is central to the design of the Planet’s projects in Smart City Natal, Laguna and Aquiraz, with Community Managers employed at each development. We have also adopted an open community approach, inviting residents of the surrounding community into the neighbourhood to enjoy free services such as libraries, cinemas and English classes. At Smart City Laguna, this approach has strengthened community cohesion and is a significant pull factor for growing the neighbourhood.

Community centric smart cities

At the same time international businesses enjoy the benefits of a global perspective, it is important they show sensitivity to unique local needs. A common criticism of smart cities is that they employ technology for technology’s sake. To provide a real increase in the quality of life of the residents, a developer needs to listen to local people and understand their unique priorities before using its international experience to address challenges. 

An existing solution may meet residents’ needs, or they may require a bespoke answer. Either way, the process begins with local people. This is why we talk to residents about their hopes, concerns and ideas for an affordable smart city. Combined with information gathered from Community Managers and data from the Planet App, we can ensure neighbourhoods continue to evolve in partnership with residents and according to their specific needs.

A dual aspect approach can be invaluable to affordable housing developers. Those who succeed at balancing these two views, global and local, will be able to deliver homes at a lower cost and higher quality while tailoring solutions to meet the specific needs of residents. International developers have the scale to help address the global issue of inadequate housing. Still, to be successful, they need to recognise that any solution has to be executed at a community level, catering to the unique priorities of local people.

Cristiano Radaelli
Chief Innovation Officer