Many of America’s cities have fallen into disrepair. While it may be easy to blame the recession for the rise in empty storefronts, the truth is that, in many areas, this decline began decades ago. As people moved to their cul-de-sacs in the suburbs, a shopping trip downtown has become a rare occurrence.
However, planners and business owners have been working together to turn this around, collaborating on developments to revitalize our downtowns. In addition to attracting a variety of businesses to populate empty storefronts, they are working to make it easier to get around through an increase in bike lanes and readying the streets for more pedestrian traffic.
In the city of Oakland, California—more specifically historic Old Oakland—a local business owner, Alfonso Dominguez and an urban planner and artist, Sarah Filly, have created Popuphood, an innovative project designed to entice businesses into the once vibrant downtown. Funded by a $30,000 grant from the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, Popuphood is giving interested retail shops six months of free rent. The businesses can stay past the six months. In the meantime, the neighborhood gets a boost to the local economy, businesses become exposed to a new clientele and residents can renew their sense of pride in their thriving neighborhood.
While the concept isn’t new, an essential ingredient to success is having a business and residential community willing to take the risk and make a commitment to revamping the neighborhood. To increase the chances of locals patronizing the businesses, it helps if the shops and restaurants that move into the storefronts are locally based, especially if there’s already a strong sense of local pride in the area.
As the economy recovers, now is the time for local businesses, neighborhood leaders and redevelopment organizations to work together to foster entrepreneurship to revitalize the ailing downtown neighborhoods of our cities. I’m anxious to see the progress of the Popuphood in Oakland—let’s hope it thrives and serves as an example for other downtowns across the country.