Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Roadmap for Equitable Economic Development Unveiled

We are excited to announce that the Roadmap for Equitable Economic Development: Expanding the Toolkit of the Community Development Movement was released yesterday by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD). This report is a must-read for anyone working in community development, at the intersection of housing and economic development, or making and influencing policy decisions in these areas - particularly in New York City.

This is the first comprehensive set of neighborhood economic development policy recommendations for New York City's new administration and is a call to action for coordinated citywide economic development policy. It is the compilation of insight from ANHD members and other key community economic development service providers within the City of New York. The report, which can be downloaded here, and was written by Larisa Ortiz and Nicole Leighton of Larisa Ortiz Associates, and Mark Foggin of Public Works Partners. Barika X. Williams and Benjamin Dulchin, and the staff and board of ANHD were the driving forces behind this work.

The unveiling, which took place at the Ford Foundation, included panel discussions and presentations by the following distinguished speakers and practitioners working in the field of community development:

George McCarthy, Ford Foundation
Jonathan Bowles, Center for an Urban Future
Nancy Biberman, WHEDCo
Chris Kui, Asian Americans for Equality
Shai Lauros, Cyrpess Hills Local Development Corporation
Larisa Ortiz, Larisa Ortiz Associates
Laura Wolf Powers, U Penn
Barika X Williams (moderator, ANHD)
Leah Archibald, EWVIDCO
Nancy Carin, Business Outreach Center Network
Mark Foggin, Public Works Partners
Adam Friedman, Pratt Center
Yorman Nunez, Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative
Michelle de la Uz (moderator, Fifth Avenue Committee)
Dave Hanzel, Capital One Community Development

The report covers a variety of issues, and identifies industry-wide gaps and needs, but principal takeaways include the following:

Major Challenges for Community Development Organizations Participating in Economic Development Activities
  • Equitable economic development has often been distinct from housing production. 
  • Economic development policy, particularly during the last two decades, has traditionally been approached in a top-down manner, prioritizing large-scale real estate development rather than incorporating community-led initiatives in neighborhoods, leaving few resources available for locally driven initiatives. (This also runs counter to the ethos of the bottom-up approach inherent in the community-development model.) 
  • Economic development planning, funding and activities have largely remained a City-led function, rather than being dispersed and controlled at the local level. 
  • Since Federal CDBG funds are currently the primary funding source for locally-driven equitable economic development and these resource have typically been allocated directly to City agencies, there has been little left over for communities to access the resources they need for grassroots economic development efforts. 
As the community development field evolves, addressing and correcting for these challenges will help ensure that low- and moderate-income communities have the tools and resources they need to plan for and execute locally-driven community development

Recommendations and Findings
  • We need to begin by making a strong compelling rationale for the field of community development. There is little quantitative or qualitative data that speaks to the widespread impact of equitable economic development efforts. 
  • We must re-emphasize locally-driven decision making. Community organizations want and deserve a seat at the decision-making table. Time and again they have demonstrated the capacity to improve communities but need the resources, technical assistance and support to be effective.
  • Fractured decision making among public agencies right now is the rule, not the exception when it comes to neighborhood-based economic development policies. We need consolidated decision-making authority at the city level.
  • Community development organizations have to move beyond CDBG as a source of funding and look to new sources of sustainable economic development funding. Those source include but are not limited to CRA investments, EB5 investments, New Markets Tax Credits, Special Assessment Districts (such as Business Improvement Districts) and other privately funded resources. 
The community development field is evolving, and this report provides the starting point for practitioners to come together and inform a new direction and resource allocation decisions.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Last Call for ICSC Westchester event! "Is your Downtown Retail Ready?"

For those in the NYC area, this is the last call for early registration for what promises to be a very informative Westchester ICSC Alliance networking event and panel discussion. We pulled together a group of great retailers and developers who will tell us about what it REALLY takes to entice developers and retailers to invest in downtown.

Panelists include:

  • Scott Auster, Managing Director of Grid Properties, Inc.  Grid Properties is a real estate and investment firm recognized for it urban retail projects, including Harlem USA and DC USA. 
  • Jonathan Gordon, President of Admiral Real Estate Services (leasing broker for Peachwave Yogurt)
  • Adam Ifshin, President & CEO of DLC Management Corporation and leasing rep for Walgreens Pharmacies)
As the New York State ICSC Alliance Co-Chair, I will be giving some welcoming comments, followed by Lamont Blackstone of G.L Blackstone & Associates, and Mount Vernon Mayork Ernest D. Davis.

Pre-Registration Recommended! Click here to register.

Date: Friday, November 15, 2013
Location: Registration @ Roosevelt Professional Building 11 West Prospect Ave, Mt. Vernon, NY
  • 7:45 - 8:45 Registration
  • 8:45 - 10:00 AM Panel Discussion
  • 10:00 - 11:00 Development Opportunities Spotlight and Networking
Come join us! 

Considering a Downtown Mural? Great! But first educate yourself on the Visual Artists Rights Act

Downtown murals are a popular commercial revitalization technique. They help build community pride, reduce the incidence of graffiti-tagging, and help communicate to shoppers that an area is improving and as a result safer, more attractive place to shop. (See a white paper I wrote for LISC a few years ago entitled “New and definitive evidence on what works to revitalize urban commercial corridors”). But did you know that the federal government confers rights to artists that protect their works of art from modification, destruction or removal? In some cases that is the right thing to do as it allows the artist to maintain the integrity of the original artwork, but in other cases it may impede new projects or development. I will leave that moral judgment for others, but what is important to know is that the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, also known as VARA, gives artists rights to their artwork and prevents the destruction of their art without the artist’s consent.

5Pointz, a former industrial building in Long Island City, Queens, NY,
is well known for the graffiti art that adorns the facade. 
Take for example the famous “Graffiti Building” in Long Island City known as 5Pointz. The building is slated for demolition and redevelopment by the owner, but a number of artists whose artwork adorns the building now claim that the Visual Artists Rights Act means that that the art (and therefore the buildings) “cannot be altered, modified, damaged or destroyed without the artists’ permission,” according to 5Pointz attorney Jeannine Chanes. (Read more: “Graffiti artists of5Pointz go to court to save building”). The case is still pending. 
Ken Twitchell's "Ed Ruscha" mural in the early year
The facade had deteriorated and been vandalized
Another frequently cited example is Kent Twitchell’s famous ‘Ed Ruscha’ mural in Los Angeles. The mural took nine years to paint during the late 1970’s and 80’s. Since then, the mural had fallen prey to some vandalism and lack of maintenance, but the amazing image was still there lording over a parking lot. In 2006, the mural was unceremoniously painted over, without any attempt to ask permission of the artist, as required by law. Twitchell later settled a lawsuit for $1.1 million dollars, the largest VARA settlement to date.

According to Wikipedia, VARA exclusively grants authors of works that fall under the protection of the Act the following rights:
  • right to claim authorship
  • right to prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create
  • right to prevent use of one's name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation
  • right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author's honor or reputation

Painted over in 2006
The courts however have found that artist’ rights are not absolute, and must also be tempered against commercial realities.

Anyone considering a mural should educate themselves on VARA, and know that VARA waivers are frequently employed to avoid confusion about rights at a later date. VARA waivers "must be very specific: the creator must consent in a written and signed instrument specifically identifying the artwork, the uses of that work, and with a clause limiting the waiver to both aspects. Where the artwork is created by more than one author, any one creator's waiver binds the group.” (From “A Guide to the Visual ArtistsRights Act”).

So by all means, plan for that amazing mural, but be sure to educate yourself, the property owner and the artist on their rights and obligations. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Putting Your District's Best Foot Forward

Author Kristen Wilke is a Project Manager at Larisa Ortiz Associates. 

Whenever friends come to visit my hometown (see below), I take them on a tour of some of my favorite places. Mostly I bring them to the places off the beaten path - a hard-to-find antique store, the waterfall, my friend's cafe, the independent movie theater - all places that one might not find without an experienced guide. If my friends visited without my carefully curated itinerary, they might have a different experience. Rather than a beautiful town with unique history, charming shops and sightseeing, they might drive in the other direction and find fields and an abundance of gas stations.

As a district manager, you most likely have a similar challenge. You know your district is great (even if the streetscape or the business mix has a few challenges), but not everyone will have a seasoned tour guide to help them get their bearings. When visitors don't have anyone to show them the way, or don't know what to look for, they may leave with a negative first impression. On top of that, even before visitors see your district, they most likely have done a little research on their own. They've read through reviews online to find businesses, or if they're coming from further away, may have gotten ahold of a guide book. These resources aren't necessarily telling the right story.
Since you can't be everyone's tour guide, here are a few ideas for helping to put your district's best foot forward:

Work with businesses to remind shoppers or diners to write positive reviews (on Yelp, or any other sites that people turn to for reviews in your city) if they had a good experience. Try to build positive feedback and debunk the negative. In New Rochelle, New York, our firm worked with the local Business Improvement District to do an “online optimization”, where we helped the BID correct and update information about the area and local businesses (on local travel websites Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc). We also recommended that the BID work with restaurants to encourage diners to write about their positive experiences on Yelp by putting small postcards reminders in with the check.

Scan what the guidebooks are saying about your district. Did they leave something out? Are they presenting it in a negative light? I once worked in a community where a popular guidebook dismissed one retail corridor entirely, advising shoppers not to waste their time. When I saw that, I emailed the editor about all of the great things they must have missed. Today (though admittedly this could have had little to do with my email) the corridor's description is much more positive. You are the local expert, so make sure publications have information to tell the right story about your district. 

- Last week I wrote about taking real estate brokers on a tour of your district so that they can then tell the right story to the retail tenants they represent. If you missed it, take a look at it here

- Control the message by writing a neighborhood profile and posting it (everywhere). Some ideas:
  • Wikipedia
  • Travel websites
  • Local real estate blogs and databases
  • Yelp
The most important thing is that all of this is rooted in facts. Don't write that your community is a happening destination for shopping and dining if your stores are primarily convenience-oriented - misled visitors won't come back. 

Here is a tool that I like to use when thinking about how to tell a neighborhood's story (click for a larger version): 

This graphic is included in a guide called, Branding Your City by CEOs for Cities. The whole report is definitely worth a read.

Here is how we used it to think about a community we worked with recently:

It is helpful for taking what may be someone's negative first impression, and putting it in a different light. Try thinking about your district in this way. It will help to craft your message in a way that reshapes negative perceptions and promotes an identity that is rooted in reality.