Whadda Ya mean “Farming”? I thought we were talking about Development?

Cabbagetown Neighborhood, Atlanta


Dallas Developer Monte Anderson has a marvelous and elaborate metaphor for explaining how to do incremental development.  He calls it “farming”.  His recommended approach is straightforward.  Pick the place you are going to focus your development efforts.  Mark off the boundaries on an actual paper map.  Do it on purpose.  That’s your farm.  Look for opportunities within the boundaries of your farm.  Mark the locations of vacant or underutilized parcels, empty buildings, the street that is too wide and fast that could benefit from on-street parking, the place for the street market.  Look for excuses to walk around the place where you have decided to work.  This is the place where you are going to create and harvest value.

Incremental Development is a better description for what Monte is advocating than small scale development.  In the end you should be building/rebuilding a neighborhood one increment at at time.  If you are committed to that neighborhood you will want to build lots of relationships with the folks who already live and work there.  You should understand the local institutions, schools, churches, local non-profits, hospitals, and barbeque joints.  The more time you spend in your chosen neighborhood, the greater your chance of finding ways to help make it better. You will also increase your chances of meeting people who are glad to help you. In addition to being the right thing to do, cultivating the neighborhood is going to be the right thing for the financial performance of the buildings you build or renovate.  The neighborhood is going to provide the principal amenity for your buildings.  So if you have chosen the place you want to stake your claim on, don’t get distracted by attractive “one-off” projects outside of your farm.  Those projects might produce some revenue, but that revenue will come with a significant opportunity cost.  Those isolated efforts won’t add any value to your other buildings in the neighborhood that should have your attention.  Don’t let your analysis of how a building might perform become myopic.  Look at the context in addition to the simple back-of-the-envelope pro forma you should be doing for any property you are considering.  Understand why an OK deal in close proximity to your other buildings could be much better than an excellent deal in a distant place where you will see zero synergy.   Your time, attention, and relationships are your critical resources.  Nothing will move forward for your efforts without those resources, so don’t spread them around.  Focus and concentrate them on your chosen farm.

3 thoughts on “Whadda Ya mean “Farming”? I thought we were talking about Development?

  1. B. Aaron Parker September 15, 2015 / 8:46 pm

    This is a brilliant way to conceptualize development and make it work well on both sides of your property line.

    In “coloring on both sides of the lines”, we really make a difference. Going to the neighborhood, one sees both those excited by the great opportunity to make their neighborhood what they always dreamed it could be….and then there are those who think of their neighborhood as a Swanson’s TV Dinner where there are compartments for everything and food should never be allowed to touch.

    In areas where agriculture was the original driver behind settlement and development, this metaphor should have lots of traction. People who moved to the city, but whose families were farmers should understand this metaphor deeply. “This acreage was too swampy before we tiled it. That acreage is the richest soil on the farmstead — we should plant this crop there. Let’s build the farm buildings around this patch paying attention to the prevailing winds and enclosing a sheltered farmyard.”

    Creating and harvesting value, both development value and livability value is the goal. Demonstrate it every way you can. This “Farming” formulation recasts one’s thinking about development. Thank you for a great metaphor. I’ll be using it at the upcoming City Planning Commission hearing.

  2. sethzeren September 20, 2015 / 12:23 pm

    How small is too small, how large is too large for your farm?

    • rjohnanderson September 20, 2015 / 3:42 pm

      Small enough that you can pay attention to it and big enough to contain enough opportunities to justify your attention.

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