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We use the term "localism" in the sense of attempting to put into practice some of the positive elements of village or small community living in today's more complex world. Author Patricia Netzley summarizes some of the advantages of small communities:

  • it is too difficult to enforce moral behaviour in a large community
  • agricultural and business practices are more likely to be ecologically sound in smaller communities
  • people feel more fulfilled in smaller communities
  • reducing an area's population reduces the environmental impact.[1]

But some elements of globalism are here to stay, and global solidarity is a positive human attitude. We are highlighting in this websites a number of practical examples of  positive localism.

Location has allways been an important ingredient of business success. Traditional small towns have provided opportunities for local business to flourish. As large commercial chains and online shopping have hurt many small businesses, there has been a renewed interest in the advantage of proximity. The value of nearby or walkable business units is beginning to be more recognized, even if there is some price penalty. People often do not include transportation expenses and resulting environmental effects in their purchasing equations. The influential Walkable Communities organization provides a useful description of the term "walkability":

Walkability focuses on neighborhood or village scale development, with many nearby places to go and things to do. Truly walkable communities are characterized by much more than good sidewalks and street crossings; they include many attributes: a mix of uses, frequent street connections and pedestrian links, timeless ways of designing and placing buildings. They create desirable places to spend time in, to meet others.[2]

The bottom line of this localism is the development of a conscioussness in a member of a community so that this person may be willing to patronize a local business that may not be able to compete in absloute prize with a remote chain business because this person is aware of the savings in transportation costs and environmental issues and he or she may know the owner or the employees of the local business and is aware of the emphasis in quality and honesty of this establishment. Of course this does not apply to everything. This person may not be able to buy a car locally, but perhaps the lesser use and the excellence of public tranportation may result in not needing to buy a second car for the family. We are not only talking about buying locally, but also about the increased use of public transportation for access to the other items.

Mixed Use Organization

As indicated in the Introduction, part of the New Urbanism movement is the return to older urban structures, which have been given the name of "Mixed-Use". The influential book Mixed-Use Developments: New Ways of Land Use, published by the Urban Land Institute in 1976, defined a Mixed-Use Development as having: "Three or more significant revenue-producing uses (such as retail, office, residential, hotel/motel, and recreation- which in well-planned projects are mutually supporting)."[3]

Mixed-use was the traditional urban style through much of history, but in the twentieth century several factors led to lower density and more dispersed land use. These factors included the rise of automobile transportation and a growing affluence in North America and Europe which allowed the increase of large homes in large lots, or what we know as "suburbia". Also, the  implementation of land use and zoning regulations, which "intended to create order through the control and separation of land uses, essentially made it illegal to mix uses in newly developing areas."[4] The movement to return to more efficient and "walkable" neighborhoods naturally encourages mixed-use, and most local governments are now willing to provide more flexible zoning laws for well-planned projects.

In historic neighborhoods, a common mixed-use was that of business owners living above their businesses. This is generally more difficult in the complex world of today, but it is quite practical in our examples of Crosstown Concourse and Bethesda Row that include residences, and in all of our examples there is a natural effect of local workers patronizing tne nearby businesses. The Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, prepared as part of the Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program offers the following objective and itemized list of the principal benefits  for these developments:

Objective: Develop different types of compatible land uses close together in appropriate locations, to shorten trips and facilitate alternative modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycling and public transportation. Mixed-use development is appropriate in downtowns, neighborhood-oriented centers, transit nodes, main streets, and some community commercial centers. Locating store, offices, residences, public services, and recreation spaces within walking distance of each other in these locations promotes:

-Independence of movement, especially for the young and the elderly who can conveniently walk, cycle, or ride transit;

-Safety through around-the-clock presence of people;

-Reduction in auto use, especially for shorter trips;

-Support for those who work at home, through nearby services and amenities.[5]


The advantages of nearness are accentuated when there is some effort to co-locate businesses that may have a synergistic or mutually advantegeous relation. At Crosstown Concourse, for example, synergy was part of the planning objectives, anchored in arts, education and healthcare which were viewed as existing strengths of its region. Quoting Dr. Richardson, one of the planners: "The planning teamís goal was to go beyond mixed use ó to put people and partners not just near each other, but in connection with each other. Organizations have actually taken the initiative to figure out how to be better together and not just co-locate, whether it be programs or space or actually sharing employees." To facilitate these conversations, Crosstown  created a "Better Together" department that helps current and potential tenants see the possibilities of local cooperation.

Another example of synergism is at the Flint Farmers' Market, which includes a children's clinic within the market building: The clinic provides families with medical services as well as an on-site nutritionist and, thanks to the marketís proximity in the same building, produce prescriptions, which they can conveniently redeem in the very same visit:

Photo ©  Flint Farmers' Market,
Flint Farmers' Market Grocer

Programs that integrate the clinic and the market are so popular that during the Flint Water Crisis, the NBA Foundation caught wind of this work and generously offered a gift of $25 to each child in Flintís schools to be used at the market. Tom Gores, the owner of the Detroit Pistons foundation, then matched this gift resulting in approximately $325,000 worth of food vouchers for families who were then able to support the marketís small-business vendors.[6]

Community Involvement

Another positive eement of localism is the involvement of an Urban Space in the issues of its surrounding environment. This is consistent with the recommendation of the Project for Public Spaces to "engage the edges". The BOK Center, for example, provides the use of its event spaces at no cost to host dance recitals, graduation ceremonies, and a weekly gathering of a local non-profit refugee-founded agency of Southeast Asian elders who live in the neighborhood.[7] Several of our example spaces host exercise and day-care facilities.

A more complex level of involvement is provided by the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) at the The Detroit Neighborhood HomeBase. Where a major university, the University of Detroit Mercy has established a center on the edge of its campus, so that its School of Architecture and Community Development can participate with other community agents in the design, planning and execution of projects that answer to the needs of the community, with the "belief that local expertise leads to the best design strategies."[8] The scope of this center is not restricted to local projects, but they are its focus.

[1] Wikipedia: A Blueprint for Survival

[2] Walkable Communities Inc.

[3] Robert Witherspoon et al, Mixed-Use Developments: New Ways of Land Use (Washington DC: The Urban Land Institute, 1976), 6.

[4] Dean Schwanke et al, Mixed-Use Development Handbook, second edition (Washington DC: The Urban Land Institute, 2003), 1.

[5] Oregon Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, 5-6.

[4] Robert Witherspoon et al, Mixed-Use Developments, 78.

[6] PPS: A (Market) Place for Everyone

[7] CNU: Bok

[8] Detroit Collaborative Design Center