Despite recent growth trends, unequal access to economic opportunity is threatening to leave many communities out of increased prosperity, and more vulnerable when recessions or other shocks – like the current Coronavirus outbreak – occur. Our country’s commercial corridors illustrate these disparities. A vibrant corridor provides opportunities for employment and wealth building, and can act as an anchor during difficult times. However, many once-bustling areas were struggling, even before restrictions on communal gatherings were recently enacted in many places. Fortunately, policymakers, community partners and residents are implementing legislative tools and programs to help steady the decline of commercial districts and reestablish them as vibrant centers for local life. Today, as the Coronavirus outbreak threatens to push struggling businesses to the brink of closure, these stakeholders are also working to provide the necessary lifelines to ensure businesses can keep their doors open.
Community Development practitioners advance equitable outcomes for communities through efforts to stabilize commercial districts during peacetime, and by advocating for additional resources and support for businesses during times of crisis. By acting in a convening capacity, intermediaries bring together residents, businesses and other stakeholders to develop asset-based strategies to build the resilience of commercial corridors. CDFIs provide support to individual small business through loans and grants to help them scale their operations, which can help ensure they stay afloat during difficult times. Community partners also advocate for public resources and leverage private funds to ensure that businesses have what they need to thrive.
In this month’s Spotlight, we’re highlighting resources and tools to help practitioners build the strength of local commercial districts. Readers will find the Commercial District Needs Assessment manual, which provides a framework to help planners think about the specific needs of their district, as well as a discussion with some of its contributors, to understand how the tool can be used to build sustainable business ecosystems that can withstand unexpected events. We’ve also included some policies and programs aimed at helping businesses mitigate the potential impact of disasters, like the Disaster Loan Assistance program, as well as guidance to help commercial districts recover from disasters like the Commercial District Recovery Guide.