Why Developers Are the Bad Guys

A primary reason people loathe developers is because they go into a neighborhood and change the dynamic of the existing community, upsetting existing residents with change.    But what is torn down and redeveloped today becomes part of tomorrow’s cultural fabric that people can’t live without.


Especially in liberal town, liberals in particular I have observed really don’t like change.  Admittedly, when a new building does go up, it changes the character of the street and it breaks habits and maybe interrupts tradition.  Sometimes the local watering hole is gone.  And if you have the wrong developer, the style can be different.  (Many architects drive that issue, however, as they wish to win an award with a building that stands out rather than one that fits in.)  There’s also that short-term change of identity of the neighborhood until a new identity takes hold through new habits being built.


And why don’t developers listen to all these people?  First, because there simply are too many divergent opinions, and second, developers are constantly being told ‘no’.  No this, no that.  You can’t do this, you can’t do that.  It’s No from neighbors, No from the city, No from lenders, No from the DNR, No from the county, no no no.  As a result, developers are trained by the public and government to ignore the word ‘no’.  I used to explain to my staff that when dealing with the city of Madison, ‘no’ means ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe’ means ‘yes’, and you’ll never receive a ‘yes’.


I don’t think people can imagine what it is like to go to a neighborhood meeting and have 50 to 100 people attack you when you believe that you are there to improve the neighborhood.  Many of these meetings can get quite nasty so developers naturally put up an aggressive offense as a safety mechanism.


Developers are also frequently interlopers – and may not be part of the community, and admittedly, when a developer is from the outside, they do tend to be a bull in the china shop.  They tend to ignore the locals because the consequences to non-local developers are little – outside developers can do what they want and not worry about what others think because they will be leaving town afterwards.  Contrast that with local developers who live in the community and care about their reputation and about what their friends and neighbors think.


Ignorance, Egotistical, and One Dimensional –  Yes, developers tend to ignore others because they got where they are by listening to themselves – and not listening to anyone else.  And many of them are egotistical because they have achieved much in their lives.  And there’s the one-dimensional aspect too – developers are solely focused on one thing – getting that project off the ground, which causes them to put all other  priorities in second place.  And for us, you have to be an eternal optimist to be in this business, and you have to be able to get out of bed in the morning and tell yourself that in spite of all the negative nannies and roadblocks, you can do this – you can achieve the impossible.  Negative people didn’t built this country; positive can-do risk-takers did.


There is one thing that admittedly gives developers a bad name is those developers who bring in cookie-cutter buildings – taking plans used in another location and re-using them here.  Architects all tend to trend together, and that’s not fair to the local community.  Each community is unique and deserves a unique plan tailored to its own needs.


In contrast though, in many cases cities force developers into specific narrow designs, limiting creativity.  Some cities, like Madison, even try to force market issues like requiring first floor retail in an area where retail is not leasing or there’s little consumer traffic.


So the bottom line is – let’s face it, people hate developers so we don’t even try to be liked anymore.  And when you grow up like I did, the tenth of eleven children where if you didn’t defend yourself, you didn’t eat, we tend to develop a hard outer shell.  But that’s not to say that we can’t be reasoned with.  The most difficult opponent to overcome is that pleasant, soft spoken, persistent person who wins us over with kindness; who is willing to compromise and isn’t trying to stop the project, but rather is just trying to address a couple of specific concerns.  Who doesn’t want to help her?



Up Against the Wall is a monthly column written by Terrence Wall and reflects his views and opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middleton Times.