Social value might have been coined differently in the past, but it stems from something that has always existed. It’s now taking center stage due to heightened awareness of the fact that disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable groups are bearing the brunt of the negative climate justice. We’ve built for the short term and in some instances this has culminated into disastrous outcomes. In fact, what social value attempts to do is level the playing field by promoting inclusion, advancing equity and justice to the benefit of all people.
Social value in the built environment is a theme that has picked up steam lately and rests on three main pillars – jobs and employment, health and wellbeing, and communities. For example, the UK Social Value Act, which came into effect in 2013, calls for the evaluation of wider social, economic and environmental benefits to be factored in when commissioning public sector works. In June 2018, UK Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington announced that the scope of the Social Value Act would be reformed so that all government contracts be awarded based on social value, and not simply value for money. In a similar vein, the Australian government has specified a target number of contracts be awarded to Indigenous businesses, by each governmental department, through its 2015 Indigenous Procurement Policy in support of Indigenous community development, engagement and inclusion.
“Social value is hard to define as most people look at it from a financial angle. For example, if you have one pound or dollar to spend, how can you spend it so that you have the biggest benefit?” asks Jain. “There are obviously public, private and vested interests, land ownership constraints and other types of complexities that come into play where the benefits of social value are indeed distributed throughout the system,” she states. “If you’re a developer and are asked to make an investment but the fruits of your investment are being reaped by a wider set of stakeholders, then what? This remains the biggest challenge to achieving social value.”
Jain believes that social value must be looked at from an inception to governance perspective. It must be viewed in terms of its distributed benefits and be measured to make the business case fair from an investment point of view.
Social Value Driving Commercial Success?
When we create spaces where people enjoy being and feel safe (social value), generally economic value follows. Hudson Yards in Manhattan, New York City was known as a neighbourhood that lagged behind the rest of the island on residential, commercial and retail use, with significantly higher amount of low-grade garage and storage space. A few years ago, the anticipated arrival of the subway extension to Hudson Yards, combined with investment in green spaces, including the conversion of an old elevated rail track into the High Line Park, began to draw companies including Google, Sony and IAC to locate there. Soon after the area was growing five times faster than the rest of Manhattan, and has become the number-one destination for galleries, restaurants and parks.