Friday, May 1, 2015

Small Projects, Big Impact

The idea that small projects can have a big impact on commercial corridor revitalization is not new. The concept in real estate is well established ("Small Renovations, Big Payoff", NYT 4/24/15). It is pretty widely known that small upgrades like a new kitchen counter top and new cabinet fronts, offer a greater rate of return than a wholesale kitchen replacement. In fact, Remodeling magazine found that a minor kitchen remodel recoups 84% for the owner, but a major renovation with top of the line appliances recoups 69%.  

At the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), the idea manifested itself in the Corridors of Retail Excellence Program (CORE), funded by PNC Bank. The program, a three year pilot, yielded tremendous success, from new businesses and development in communities as varied as Mount Washington in Pittsburgh and Fishtown in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, LOA served as the lead consultant and worked closely with a local CDC to define an intervention that reflects community interest, existing resources and potential opportunities. Our effort took the form of a "Model Block" program, and involved the sprucing up of the 300 Block of East Girard. What started out as one isolated retail business became, after some creative placemaking efforts (including fresh coats of paint, new lighting and signage, and a great interactive fence) and consistent PR/communications effort, a node of three new retail businesses, two new restaurants and a new development on a vacant lot. 
300 Block of East Girard: Before...cars would zoom
by without noticing the one occupied storefront. 
After, new signage, catchy colors, and
new storefronts create a vibrant node of business activity.

An "interactive fence" serves as temporary exhibit space for
businesses - and has even served as the backdrop for concerts!

But really, none of this is new. These incremental improvements are how cities evolve and improve. What I do find interesting are the organized and increasingly branded efforts to help people professionalize these kinds of things. LISC CORE was one program, but others include Tactical Urbanism by The Street Plans Collaborative and The Better Block project. 

So the next time you are thinking about improvements to your corridor, keep in mind that less is often more. 


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