Tips for Inclusive Growth: Building Neighborhood Business Districts

Building stronger economies is a core component of what we do as economic development strategists and ideas generated to advance and position an economy for growth differ region to region. To some, a “stronger economy” may mean scaling businesses and/or affordable housing. To others, it may mean investing more in transportation or all of the above. Variance aside, an increasingly common variable we’re finding in our work is a focus on inclusive economic growth.

According to Brookings Institute’s “Opportunity for Growth” report, cities are a critical scale at which to address barriers to and foster greater economic opportunity for workers, firms and local economies. So, if you’re wondering how you can tackle inclusive growth for your city or region, think about your most critical local assets and economic drivers. Think: neighborhood business districts (NBDs), those corridors or hubs of small, boutique shops often anchored by a grocery store and centered around day-to-day convenience shopping needs of residents. NBDs present a unique advantage for cities thinking about how to build wealth for residents, concentrate local jobs, and even increase safety and livability.

Here’s some food for thought:

• Entrepreneurship has been a proven model for financial empowerment and economic mobility, but is most difficult to achieve for residents in poor communities. Investing in NBDs enable areas to reimagine vacant or underutilized spaces for entrepreneurship activity to support local entrepreneurs’ ability to learn, test new ideas, and scale operations.

THINK: Entrepreneurship for All and their efforts to advance inclusive entrepreneurship in local communities in Massachusetts.

• Proximity to jobs and amenities add to a neighborhood’s affordability, particularly as transportation costs make up a large share of expenditures for low-income families. Investing in local NBDs not only increases employment opportunities for local residents but also ensures better access to them.

THINK: the Center for Neighborhood Technology Housing and Transportation Index proving that where neighborhoods are location-efficient, they’re affordable.

• Homeownership is an essential path toward opportunity and wealth building. These assets suffer in poor communities where low home/property values, due in part to the quality of the neighborhood, exists. Investments in NBDs over time – i.e. building renovations and streetscape improvements – reduces blight and vacancy, increases community value and benefits local residents looking to buy, own or sell in the area.

THINK: Brookings recent “The Devaluation of Assets on Black Communities” report.

• Investing in businesses within NBD’s increases tax and municipal revenues, making available additional resources for an area’s infrastructure and public service needs.

THINK: Smart Growth America and how walkable urban development and other smart growth strategies are helping to boost tax revenue.

Building capacity to revitalize a neighborhood business district is no easy task. Yet, with due diligence, a city and region serious about inclusion can develop strategies centered on building NBDs that are economically viable, resilient and sustainable. In return, economic outcomes are not only strengthened but also guaranteed to reach people and places that need it the most.