Commerce and community

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Earlier this month Richard Layman of Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space sorta quoted me in his post "In lower income neighborhoods, are businesses supposed to be "community organizations" first?" Neither one of us remember exactly what I said, and I would say, "businesses not social welfare organizations," or something like that. It more than likely came after one of a dozen community meetings where some business was proposing to the community group where the owner needed a variance or ABRA license or some city government approval, and someone would ask if the owner was going to hire community youths, or the like. But those were the kinds of questions asked many years ago. Now residents of the community are asking about things like parking, now that it is becoming harder to get that spot in front of your house these days.
I'll still say commercial enterprises are not like non-profit community organizations, but are part of the community and like members of the community can add or detract. The old guys who sell heroin* on the corner are unfortunately a part of the community as the nice Ethiopians who sell donuts. Say what you will about the Big Bear Cafe, it has become an amenity that shows up in Craigslist ads for nearby basement apartments. That is one commercial enterprise aiding a smaller commercial (renting out your basement) activity, that may improve the life of residents (the resident landlords) in a way no non-profit would do.
Big Bear is one example of where there has been a vibrant relationship between a business and a community. It was members of the community who supported the liquor license, and the zoning change and supported the attached seasonal farmers market, against other forces in the community pushing against those things.
Many of us want a walkable neighborhood, and well you need stuff to walk to, like a supermarket (coming in 2013), or a corner market that may or may not source local or artisan foods, or a dry cleaners, or a restaurant or take away, or an art gallery, you get my gist. You want to walk to some business, some commercial enterprise to pick up a new dog leash or grab a drink, along with choices. I can walk to one of 3 pizza places, 4 different places to grab a bite to eat with a glass of wine, 4-5 places to grab a bottle of wine, and so on. And just to throw it out there the government/non-profit places such as metro stations, post offices, and worship spaces are good too.
There are sadly some legal business activity that detract from neighborhood improvement. Not to name any names, because I don't want to burn the bridges of redemption, let's imagine a liquor store being a type of negative business or a greasy carry out or a fly by night operation. I can imagine an instance where say a liquor store has hindered or set back community efforts to improve a section of neighborhood. Or an enterprise that may be a bait and switch, getting the community to support one thing, but the owner plans to switch it with another. In those cases, those businesses or business people really do need to 'give back' what they have taken away, in some cases a sort of restorative justice is needed.


*Our part of the TC has gone from the young guys who sell crack 24-7 to the old guys who sell heroin, eh, whenever. Though both are really bad, the old guys are a slight improvement. Still I want the old guys gone too.

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