Purpose-Driven Building

A movement that looks beyond the bottom line


You’ve probably heard about a purpose-driven life. There’s even a popular book by Rick Warren entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” The book takes the reader on a 40-day personal spiritual journey on five purposes for human life on Earth.

That search can carry over into the way and where we live and work. There is a movement in real estate development called purpose-driven building, and it’s about developing something with a deeper objective than simply building another subdivision, shopping center or office building.

In real estate development, of course you want to be successful and profitable, but purpose-driven building is not based on finding the most efficient way to make a quick dollar and leaving it at that. There’s a lot more vision, heart and passion that goes into it. You find that the people who do purpose-driven development tend to be more creative and think about the broader impact that their development will have on the community. They’re trying to draw connections of how this construction and the parts of the development can combine into something that will positively impact how people work, interact and live.

In the long run, the projects where people utilize this type of thinking, where they take a chance to do something beyond the norm, tend to be the most successful. The long-term value goes well beyond the bottom line, and if done right, can help other area project designs think about how they can also improve an area’s quality of life.

One example is in nearby Mississippi, where I am developing the Tradition master planned community in Biloxi. It has been my vision to create a world-class community in the town where I grew up, and we have been making significant progress over the last few years.  

As with most master plans, they are dynamic and evolve to meet the needs of the intended audiences. This was just the case with Tradition. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant issued a challenge to me to see what we could develop that would help find a cure for diabetes, a disease that affects more Mississippians than any other state in the country. With this challenge, the trajectory of our development took on a larger purpose — becoming a medical city.  

The Tradition medical city’s anchor tenants in the field of education, research and health care are collectively working together to make advances that will improve the quality of life of Mississippi residents, but also share these strides with our nation. We have partnered with the best and brightest at the Cleveland Clinic to start outreach programs and do research to work toward a cure. The hallmark of this new Medical City is the National Diabetes & Obesity Research Institute at Tradition, which is already doing terrific work.

But we were not the first to think of this type of purpose-driven development that put research and medical advancements at their helm. We looked to models like Lake Nona in Florida. Several years ago, this project took an abandoned golf course and transformed it into a research facility that has grown to a 650-acre health and life sciences park, with thousands of square feet of businesses and residential neighborhoods.

People across the country are also incorporating purpose-driving building into things like LEED-certified buildings. If, for example, you develop a strip mall and make the decision to incorporate solar panels on the roof, your tenants will reap the benefits of cheaper utility bills. It might initially be more expensive, but it pays off. Tenants or buyers will be willing to pay a bit more for the savings they can see.

Developers are also tuned in to purposeful, sustainable development from a residential perspective. That includes everything down to the design of street layouts within a neighborhood. Traffic flow can affect emissions, so thoughtful layouts can reduce those emissions and improve safety. Walkable neighborhoods with sidewalks and paths encourage people to walk or ride bikes, rather than hopping into their cars to go to the corner store. We work with the natural environment around us. Instead of mowing down trees and the terrain, we’re working with the topography instead of against it. That also includes focusing on native plants instead of introducing those which are more appropriate for another zone or climate. That has been a significant concern for areas such as Southern California and other western states, where thirsty, non-native plants demand water that’s already in short supply.

Finally, purpose-driven development means taking advantage of technology that will improve a person’s overall quality of life. Fiber optics and broadband capabilities can not only automate things within our homes like lights, entertainment, cooling and security, but this technology gives us the opportunity to share medical treatment and diagnoses from experts from are states away through telehealth initiatives.

Purpose-driven building is not always the easy path, but it can certainly be the most satisfying in the long run. While still making money, you can help transform communities and improve the quality of life there. It just takes a little more time to really look at your next development opportunity and approach it with creativity, imagination and purpose.

Joseph C. Canizaro is president and chief executive officer of Columbus Properties, L.P., a commercial real estate development company founded in 1966 and headquartered in New Orleans.  Columbus Properties has developed, acquired and managed office buildings, hotels, mixed-use projects, as well as land and residential projects throughout the Southeast/Southwest.  Some of his most recognized developments in New Orleans include Canal Place, First Bank and Trust Tower, Texaco Center, First Bank Center and the Information Technology Center Office Complex at the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park. Canizaro is currently developing TRADITION, a 4,800 acre master-planned community on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which is designed to be a sustainable development with employment, residences, schools and recreational amenities centered on health and wellness, education, culture and the environment.