Summary of Small Business and the City

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  • Innovative


Suburban shopping malls and “big-box” stores often cause vacancies in commercial buildings in downtowns and Main Street shopping districts. Now, a movement that originated in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is countering the shift away from downtown clusters and to suburban malls. “Business Improvement Associations” (BIAs) collect a tax from their urban neighborhood’s commercial property owners to improve their areas and boost their business prospects – without direct government aid. Rafael Gomez, a professor, Andre Isakov, a park designer, and Matthew Semansky, a journalist, explain a study of urban development and decline in Canada. They emphasize the way that local businesses can respond to the threat of big suburban retail centers that deplete downtowns. They show how governments can make their jurisdictions friendlier to small businesses with the right zoning rules and support of good schools and mass transit. The authors’ conclusions apply to all modern cities around the world. getAbstract recommends their insights to business owners large and small, city planners, zoning boards, investors, entrepreneurs and citizens who are interested in preserving their neighborhoods’ “sense of place.”

About the Authors

Rafael Gomez teaches employment relations at the University of Toronto. Andre Isakov manages park planning and design for Coquitlam, British Columbia. Matthew Semansky has written for several publications, including the National Post and the Halifax Chronicle Herald.



Small Business, Big Impact

Entrepreneurial density holds local economies together and builds healthy neighborhoods. A study of 2,953 counties in the United States showed higher per capita income growth in those with higher densities of local independently operated small businesses. Yet many small firms in downtown shopping areas have gone out of business amid a surge in the development of suburban malls and “big-box” retailers.

How people buy and use goods and services shapes their “most profound engagement with the urban world.” Society overall benefits when consumers have a more personal experience that goes beyond pursuit of the lowest price, and when shoppers can patronize independent, locally owned and operated businesses. Modern economic development strategists often fail to promote small-business employment. They tend to dismiss the importance of locally owned small businesses and to focus on the needs of large enterprises – even though big companies turn out to be the primary users of capital, and smaller independent businesses with local owners become the primary users of labor.

At every level of government, supporting entrepreneurial activity means ...

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