Anthropologists coined the term “Cargo Cults” after World War II for remote island communities in the Pacific that became baffled after modern technology and Western goods disappeared with the troops. These communities would “build crude replicas of Western technology – runways made of palm fronds or radio headsets made of coconuts – because they believed that mimicking the technology would attract the planes full of supplies to which they had been accustomed.”
In real estate, “Cargo Cult Urbanism” occurs when developers and planners create comprehensive plans and zoning regulations with impractical densities and mixes of uses, without ensuring that there is sufficient market demand to support such development.
According to Jonathan Bartlett, Senior Manager at CohnReznick, the best way to avoid Cargo Cult Urbanism is to “thoroughly assess your market and understand what’s really driving real estate demand,” which can help “guide a community from a grand but infeasible vision toward a smaller scale project with enough juice to attract private sector investment and actually lead to real transformation.”
“The last thing we want is to be staring at empty streetscapes, like so many islanders waiting for planes that will never come.”