The trends that project owners will see in 2021 architecture and engineering (A/E) projects reflect many of the changes around us. Success will depend on how well you respond to changes in our environment, climate and regulations, as well as changes in how and where we work. Dwindling sources of revenue may affect how we approach and complete projects. Yet, better outcomes are possible if you’re prepared to pivot quickly to attain the highest levels of innovation, efficiencies and agility.
Are you positioned to handle an unpredictable climate and the resulting impact on infrastructure? How can proper planning mitigate economic challenges? What innovations can help you improve the lives of people in your community? What new technologies can bolster buy-in from the public and project stakeholders?
This 2021 outlook will help you harness change and improve your projects in the year ahead.
Protecting our natural environment, factoring sustainable principles into our built environment, and improving our nation’s infrastructure to be resilient to climate change are top priorities for cities and states. In fact, the Alliance for a Sustainable Future – a partnership between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions – released a 2020 report citing that 60% of surveyed cities across the U.S. have launched or significantly expanded a climate initiative or policy.
Cities and states with plans to improve infrastructure must account for changing weather patterns that result in a drier, wetter or hotter climate, depending on location. As a result, more projects are being planned, designed and built with the changing climate in mind.
Project owners who greenlight initiatives that benefit the environment and boost climate resilience can achieve greater buy-in from the public and key stakeholders. Innovative infrastructure can absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of climate shifts while remaining resilient to external pressures and even benefitting the surrounding environment. For example, green alleyways capture and filter rain water, sending only clean water into rivers and lakes.
Take a look at the video to the right and the case study below which highlight how the Duluth Airport Authority protected 27 acres of vulnerable forest and local wildlife with its climate resilient runway relocation project at Sky Harbor Airport: 13-Year Sky Harbor Airport Runway Relocation Protects 27 Acres of Forest, Nurtures Wildlife
Local economies are grappling with a significant reduction in business revenue, sales tax, gas tax and other revenue due to the pandemic. “One of the biggest trends I’ve heard from various cities is that they expect a 5-15% cutback in revenue over the next two years,” says Jenna Obernolte, SEH Rochester (Minn.) Office Civil Engineering Practice Center Leader. “Communities can and will move forward with reduced budgets, but planning needs to be even more strategic and precise.”
Whether you expect or are experiencing reduced revenue in the months ahead, here are 10 ways to prioritize projects within your capital improvement plan (CIP): 10 Ways to Prioritize Your CIP During Economic Uncertainty
Cleaner air, quieter streets, and more people biking and walking outdoors – this healthful silver lining during a challenging year is a trend that communities can capitalize on. In fact, trail usage is up 200% across the U.S. over the past year, and we expect this trend to remain in the months ahead. As explored in depth in this article – Why Your Community Should Invest in Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure – eight benefits of investing in non-motorized infrastructure include:
Visualization technologies such as 3D modeling, 3D digital renderings and 3D animation can help key stakeholders not only see how a project will look before it becomes a reality, but also experience it as if they were physically there. In addition, providing stakeholders and the public with a better understanding of your projects at crucial design stages increases buy-in and can save you money due to faster, more informed decision making.
As digital technology has moved us beyond hand-drawn renderings to computer-generated models in recent years, visualizations have become more precise, innovative and important. This engagement and planning strategy will continue to play a valuable role in the year ahead.
Project owners have found virtual public engagement to be as effective if not more so than in-person engagement events. More tools are available than at any time in history. Putting them to use in a way that boosts transparency, trust and the safety of your stakeholders can benefit your projects for years to come.
While traditional engagement efforts will remain valuable especially as the pandemic subsides, virtual public engagement is creating greater efficiency and reducing costs. Seven tactics to help inform and empower the groups you’re targeting include:
Learn more about each of these tactics and how to capitalize on them: 7 Ways to Practice Virtual Public Engagement While Physical Distancing.
Home buyer behaviors are changing fast. More people of all ages are seeking to leave cities, yet still value the urban vibe and nearby amenities that cities provide. Many baby boomers are willfully transitioning out of single-family homes in search of flexibility and affordability. Likewise, early 20s Gen Z and millennials are bringing new ways of thinking to their housing searches. They are willing to rent rather than buy, recognize smaller cities are modernizing and offering similar benefits as large metro areas, and seek more recreational opportunities.
The challenge? A limited number of housing options fit their needs.
This strong market demand coupled with limited supply creates a timely opportunity for private developers and communities to capitalize by reviving a trend from the 1940s that provides creative housing choices. “Missing middle housing” is a neighborhood development with creative placement of a variety of house-sized building types, such as duplexes, multiplexes, bungalow courts, townhomes and live-work spaces. It’s labeled “missing” because this type of housing hasn’t been built much since the 1940s, and “middle” because they can be situated on empty parcels between a spectrum of housing types – such as single-family homes and mid- to high-rise apartments.
You can explore this emerging trend in multi-family housing development in depth here: Why Missing Middle Housing Is an Emerging Trend in Multi-Family Development.
This past year has reminded us that we need to be prepared for the unexpected – and capable of adapting. Your project managers need to listen, learn, experiment and embrace innovation to complete projects. Stricter budgets and tighter timelines drive the increased demand for efficiency and beyond, so project managers need to be more accountable, deliberate and technologically savvy to get your projects where they need to be.
See these traits in action, and evaluate if your project managers represent them in this article by Toby Muse, a senior project manager and SEH's civil engineering leader over the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area: 5 Critical Traits of Today's Project Manager.
The client experience – that is, your experience in partnership with A/E firms – continues to be a top priority. Communities are selecting partners to lead their projects who are committed to collaboration, trust, transparency and exceptional service – understanding how important these traits are to project success. Forbes reports that 84% of organizations that work to improve the customer/client experience report an increase in revenue. And organizations with engaged employees outperform the competition by 147%.
One way strategic A/E organizations are prioritizing this trend is by placing greater emphasis on hiring and nurturing young professionals. Integrating the client experience into the growth and development of young professionals is creating a new generation of professionals committed to serving clients well and following through on project promises and budgets.
You can build on this trend by creating experiences for your interns and young professionals – giving them hands-on and applicable opportunities to learn, grow and develop. Internships offer a valuable opportunity, whether in person or virtual.
These three SEH vice presidents and regional leaders who guide the company’s operations across the nation provide insights on trends to watch and implement in 2021 and beyond. Their collective range of expertise directs SEH’s innovative work across key markets of environmental, transportation and infrastructure. Clients, in turn, have never been in better hands as they meet complex project goals in this ever-changing world.
Mark Broses, PE* brings everyone’s strengths together to create something stronger as he leads SEH’s overall growth and operations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Over his productive career, Mark has served as project manager and lead environmental engineer – including leading environmental investigations and remediation at more than 200 sites across the Midwest. He is highly skilled at client relations, but is also dedicated to building a better world outside of his work at SEH. Serving on the Chippewa Falls (Wis.) Chamber of Commerce Board and Rotary District, Mark helps the success of local businesses and also championed a project in Bolivia that brought clean water to 5,000 people. Contact Mark
Benita Crow, PE* leads SEH’s operations and growth strategy in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. She is known for the quality and integrity of her approach, forming superb relationships with her clients and internal staff. Over the course of her career with SEH, she’s served as engineer, project manager and regional practice center lead by guiding various phases of planning and design for airport improvement projects across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Her innate ability to engage those around her results in a culture where people succeed and grow in their careers by embracing innovation to meet the ever-evolving needs of clients. Contact Benita
Paul Wells, PE* oversees SEH's growth efforts in Colorado and Wyoming. Throughout his career, Paul has worked on projects ranging in size from multi-million dollar environmental impact statements to a 10-mile project in Colorado that added lanes to I-25 that included many interchanges and bridges. Having served as a manager and leader in both the public and private sectors, Paul has unique insight into his clients’ point of view. This insight contributes to Paul’s ability to cultivate trusting relationships that lead to success in every project we undertake and reaffirm how our teams commit to seeing multifaceted projects through the right way. Contact Paul