Friday, February 27, 2015

LISC Chicago Business District Leadership Program tackles “Active Listening”

An "Active Listening" exercise during the LISC Chicago
Business District Leadership retreat
Two years of planning is finally realized! The first LISC Chicago Business District Leadership Retreat is well underway. This program is an outgrowth of the Coro Neighborhood Leadership Program in New York – now in its fifth year. These programs are truly groundbreaking - they seek to provide leadership and skills training for a cohort of twenty commercial district practitioners annually. This is not your typical training program folks. These individuals were competitively selected and use the six month training program to hone the skills that they need to make their work productive. Today we are tackling active listening. When our masterful facilitator, Jose Acevedo, asked the co-hort this morning “how many of you depend on people over whom you have no authority to be successful at your job?” every hand shot up. That is inherent in this work. The property owners, the business owners, the political leaders, the community leaders and the funders who are our partners are not staff. They are not people who are paid by us and whose performance review is based on how well they execute exactly what we want. How many of you have faced the challenge of a recalcitrant property owner – someone who seems reticent to participate in your commercial revitalization efforts – yet controls a critical and visible property in your district? Or the business owners who bristle at your efforts to improve the district and refuse to engage?

Jose made the powerful point that building relationships with those individuals begin by actively listening to them. But what really is “active listening”? This is the definition we are using here: “ATTENDING carefully to what another person says, means, intends and feels and RESPONDING in a way that lets them know they are heard and understood.” The key here is that active listening requires two steps. First, listening. And next, talking to demonstrate that you have an understanding of what the other person said. That simple, very generous act builds the foundation for a relationship based on mutual understanding.

So go ahead and active listen today! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Vibrant Streets

Washington DC has been taking big steps in a new direction to connect its residents who choose walkable, bikeable, transit-rich neighborhoods to services - a connection they dubbed Vibrant Streets.  Vibrant Streets started as a DC Office of Planning study that has now excitedly turned into something bigger and now includes The Vibrant Retail Streets Toolkit, a guide designed to take advantage of renewed interest in urban markets by retailers as well as growing districts.

The Vibrant Streets movement expanded after well attended conferences, interest from the industry, and a 2012 Downtown Merit Award from the International Downtown Association.

The toolkit, downloadable for free through ICSC's website, studied several successful national and international shopping districts to gather information for best practices. It comprises "the building blocks to vibrant streets" containing elements of a vibrant street along with explanation and relevancy.

It goes on to walk the reader through an eight step implementation process to create a vibrant retail street.  Many steps to complete, but this toolkit makes it simple and understandable.

The toolkit also spotlights innovative approaches around the country that spur vibrant retail markets like "creatively financing local heritage businesses" in Ithaca, NY, as well as highlights what goes into retailer decision making process and site selection.

We encourage BIDs and commercial districts to check out this valuable toolkit out if you haven't already!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Great signs, great streets...

 Courtesy of Lyn Falk and the National Main Street Center

Lyn Falk, President and Owner of Retailworks, Inc. shares her "Do's and Don'ts of Main Street Signage" on this great post by the National Main Street Center.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Nine hot trends that the retail real estate industry can expect in 2015

We really enjoyed Joel Groover's article in the most recent Shopping Centers Today covering nine "hot topics" he identified after surveying experts in the industry.  Commercial district managers take note! Could some of these trends make their way to your district?
  1. More Mobile Tech and E-Commerce - The continued rise of Internet users worldwide coincides with the ability to capture and use data in ways that improve overall performance. The article goes as far as to note the ability to track customer movement inside malls and stores to gather information - is this move overstepping privacy though?
  2. More Redevelopments of Well-Located Properties - A lot of capital investment is being leveraged against redevelopment of strategically located properties that have the investors cool as cucumbers because the demand for good real estate is so high.
  3. Continued Growth of Fast-Casual Dining - Sales among fast-casual dining establishments increased 11% from 2012 to 2013 and are expected to continue.  Baja Fresh, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Qdoba are all lumped into the lot of fast-casual as well as Shake Shack who's recent IPO sold 5 million shares. Fast-casual, as I see it is a step above fast-food, which Americans are slowly recanting from. But don't take our word for it, just take a look at what's been happening to McDonald's lately..."As sales dip, McDonald's is replacing Don Johnson as chief", NYTimes, 1/28/15. So here is our question for you...what is your mix of food offerings and is fast-casual dining part of your retail mix? If probably should be. 
  4. More Subleasing of Retail Space - Basically a store or brand within a store or brand. This is expected to increase in 2015. Large-format retailers are turning to creative sublease solutions amid the trend toward downsizing.
  5. More Solar Arrays on Shopping Center Rooftops - Companies, mostly big box stores, are seeing solar as a way to turn underused land and rooftops into productive assets while also impressing environmentally friendly consumers.
  6. Healthier Employment and Consumer Spending - The article relates lowered energy, i.e. oil prices, to savings for employers and consumers who will spend the money saved on gas.  This equates to, among other things, more hiring by employers.
  7. More Same-Day Delivery - As Amazon has notably taken the charge toward same-day delivery, other retailers such as Macy's and Target have also rolled out same-day delivery for select markets of time-stricken consumers. But only 9% of consumers surveyed "cited same-day delivery as a top factor that would improve their online shopping." This means that while delivery remains important, people still want to go to stores to purchase. That's good news for downtown. 
  8. New Initiatives to Recapture Coveted Spaces - Like putting a peg in a hole, retailers are adjusting their size to fit into more appropriate and more coveted spaces as they "right-size" their portfolios. Some of the retailers taking space include Nordstrom Rack, Sprouts, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. Looks like luxury bargains and specialty food are taking advantage of these opportunities.
  9. More Retailer Spin off Concepts - Spin off concepts ideally allow established retailers to capture interest of new demographic groups and enter normally inaccessible markets. For example Space Ninety8, an Urban Outfitters concept store, opened in normally chain unfriendly Williamsburg, Brooklyn. COS by H&M spins off higher luxury while F21 Red is lower priced than it's spin off parent, Forever 21. Could some of these spin offs find their way to your district?
Credit: This post was developed in part an article in SCT (“Nine Hot Topics For 2015,” Jan. 2015). 

Mending Our Divided Cities

Have you ever been driving through a city on a road that clearly split the city in two?  Unfortunately this is a dilemma that has been written into the history books of American cities.  LA's Interstate-405, Austin's I-35, NOLA's Claiborne Expressway, Syracuse's I-81, New Haven's Route 34, St. Louis' I-70 just to name a few have all divided the cities they call home.

What are we doing as a nation, as citizens, urban planners, designers to mend these broken seams to our cities? Sometimes natural disasters provide opportunities to mend urban highways, as was the case with San Francisco's Embarcadero, or an economic downturn provides opportunities, like Route 99 in Portland.  

Some communities that face this challenge:
  • I-280, Newark, NJ - The Urban Essex Coalition is federally funded effort led by Together North Jersey, trying to use "complete streets" as a solution for I-280's splitting of the community.
  • I-5, Seattle International District - While there is no solution yet, our client, Seattle Chinatown International District, faces the challenge of connecting both sides of the interstate highway that bifurcates the traditionally Chinese portion of the district from the growing Vietnamese community. The underbelly of I-5 poses a challenge to connectivity that the community has tried to overcome by painting the piers that hold up the highway.
  • Image:
  • Sunnyside, Queens, NY - The up and coming neighborhood of Sunnyside is making progress to connect the northern district with the southern district which is severed by the elevated 7 subway.  Sunnyside BID is working to add plazas, seating, events with music, and farm stands (seen on right).
  • In New Orleans, the challenge was outlined in “Imagining Cities Without Highways" by Diana Lind. Claiborne Avenue was once a bustling corridor with grassy medians lined with trees. After the highway was built, its neighboring community of the Treme slid into decline. 
  • In St. Louis, I-70 is vastly underused and severs a resurgent downtown from the Mississippi River. Plans are in the works to create a park like platform over the highway, but local advocacy groups are calling for the highway to be replaced entirely by a boulevard. 
  • And finally in the Bronx, the Sheridan Expressway separates the South Bronx from the rest of NYC and discourages economic development.

So how do we seam together communities that have been torn apart by infrastructure, trains, roads, etc.?:
In Rotterdam, painted viaduct columns make for a
nicer pedestrian passageway
Greater connectivity of our cities provides greater mobilization, interaction, and livability, potentially leading to more community interaction, increased economic activity, and decreased disassociation.  

Proposal to sink and cap I70 East in Denver, CO 

Proposal to cap Autobahn A7
Further reading:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Utility Boxes Get an Artistic Upgrade

Scott Landfried is LOA's newest staff person, blog contributor, and graduate student in planning at Hunter College. 

You know those clunky gray metal boxes at intersections. They are a bit omnipresent around cities but easily looked past. These unwelcoming boxes of variable sizes and rectangular shapes sit at most intersections, along our streets, next to buildings, and in commercial corridors.  Wouldn't it be nice to see what a little creativity and initiative can do to turn bland into beautiful?  Many cities are doing just that.

Calgary, Canada (Image
& Artist: Sam Hester)
In a recent article I saw, Minneapolis is taking the initiative to put the paintbrush and power in the hands of its citizens.  The article weighs the pros and cons of paint versus vinyl wrapping and points out the reportedly difficult approval process.

Calgary, Canada
Streetscape artwork and improvement are valuable as node or landmarks, something that attracts and draws, something that becomes connected with the character of the district itself.  I can imagine two people arranging plans to meet to eat and shop saying something like, "Let's meet at the A to Z box" or "Meet me at the bright box on 16th." "Let's meet at that gray bland box on 9th," said no one, ever.

Toronto, Canada (Image: Kayla Rocca)
Check out our Pinterest account for other great utility boxes. While looking for good examples, I was reminded of my many years living in Austin.  I remembered seeing utility boxes painted (possibly unauthorized) while driving or biking the streets and enjoyed the brightness and creativity they offered.

Artist: Kristine Heycants
Image: City of Minneapolis
Here are some interesting points regarding utility box programs:
  • initiated in many cities as graffiti abatement programs,
  • boxes are typically painted by professional artists selected through application process,
  • not just any box can be painted but typically only utility boxes owned by the city,
  • typically painting of boxes can cost anywhere from $800-1800 and is covered by the city or community groups.

Other links and readings:
Calgary Utility Box Public Art Program
Boston's Paintbox Program
Glendale, CAs "Beyond the Box" Program
Rochester, NY - Painted Utility Boxes
Google image search: "painted utility boxes"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Who is powering the Main Street economy?

Patricia Blakely at The Merchants Fund sent me a great report today on the importance of immigrant business owners to "Main Street". [Bringing Vitality to Main Street: How Immigrant Small Business Help Local Economies Grow published by the Americans Society and Council of the Americas and the Fiscal Policy Institute]

The report underscores what I have seen time and again in my work in diverse urban communities, and particularly in secondary urban markets. Close to home, this includes communities like Ossining, NY where Mexican and Ecuadorian immigrants have opened businesses, and Glen Cove, LI where Central American immigrants are more prominent. In both cases, these communities have seen an influx of immigrant business owners who have seized opportunities in the downtown area.

The report has lots of interesting and little known facts about the importance of immigrants to traditional commercial districts.

Top Twelve Little Known Facts about Immigrant Main Street Business Owners
  1. Immigrants make up 28% of Main Street business owners, while accounting for only 16% of the labor force and 18% of all business owners. 
  2. 61% of gas station owners are immigrants
  3. 53% of grocery store owners are immigrants
  4. In the Los Angeles area, immigrants make up fully 64% of all Main Street business owners. 
  5. Immigrants are 10 to 15 percent more likely to be business owners than their U.S.-born counterparts. 
  6. They make up 18% of all business owners, but take home 13% of business earnings.
  7. Immigrant workers are absorbed into the economy with only modest displacement of U.S.-born workers. 
  8. Between 2000 and 2013, immigrants accounted for 48 percent of overall growth of business owners. 
  9. Between 2000 and 2013, immigrant Main Street business owners increased by 90,000 and U.S.-born business owners declined by 30,000. 
  10. Immigrants accounted for all of the growth in Main Street businesses in 31 of the country's 50 largest metropolitan areas. 
  11. Asians make up 49% of all immigrant Main Street businesses, ethnic whites make up 26% of immigrant Main Street businesses and and hispanic/latinos make up 20% of Main Street Businesses. 
  12. The top three immigrant groups that make up Main Street business owners include Koreans, Indians and Mexicans.  
This data serves as a policy clarion call to governments to actively help immigrants build their businesses, take advantage of incentives and initiatives, and improve the bureaucracies associated with business basics, like licensing and inspection.

With that, I'm off to my favorite local spot to grab a taco...yum.

The report defines "Main Street" businesses as those that fall in three board sectors: Retail, Accommodation and Food Services, and Neighborhood Services.