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How Typical Economic Development Kills Community Character

An economic development pro makes an argument for an approach to economic development that prioritizes the urban design decisions that favor community character.
September 23, 2020, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Joe Borgstrom, principal with Place + Main Advisors, LLC,  flips the script on the traditional defense of community character: the reader won't find here an impassioned defense of suburban tract homes and the free flow of automobiles, but an approach to economic development that reflects the urban design agenda put forward by the Congress for the New Urbanism.

"Preserving a community’s character is often used as a rallying cry for the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) crowd, but a community can improve itself without completely changing its character," Borgstrom writes.

But where some market urbanists might find fault with the idea of community character as a quantifiable concept, Borgstrom argues for the inherent economic value of community character: "Before any marketing brochure, website, or ad campaign, the community’s character is its first and most important economic development message."

With more detail included in the article, Borgstrom lists several character killers, namely, strip malls, car-centric land use and infrastructure, national chains, mega-block projects, and a lack of historic preservation.

On the issue of historic preservation, Borgstrom is most in-line with the traditional development opposition politics the article clearly intends to critique. The difference might be found in Borgstrom's focus on the financial incentives working in preservation's favor (even in the face of market pressure that favors building quick, cheap, disposable buildings, according to Borgstrom): "But historic preservation is an effective economic development tool that can help prospective building owners get financing for the appropriate care and redevelopment of a property. There are several financial incentives to do these types of projects, namely the federal Historic Tax Credit which offers up to 20% tax credit for eligible expenses."

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Published on Wednesday, September 2, 2020 in Proud Places
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