Economic benefits at the community scale

It all boils down to economic development.  I never call the work JM Goldson does "economic development."  I call it historic preservation, affordable housing planning, open space planning, even land use planning, but not planning for economic development.  Yet, this work all deals with preserving and enhancing the character of communities and, in doing so, we can create a "wise economy" for the community. The term "wise economy" is used by Della Rucker, principal of the Wise Economy Workshop, to describe ". . . an economy that makes the right decisions not just for today, but for the future"  (Rucker's blog post, 11/16/09).  Here is a snippet of her wise words about what makes a wise economy:

  • Looks constantly for new opportunities — and particularly seeks the unexpected ones.
  • Embraces its differentiators and values its assets, understanding that differentiation leads to value and away from the chase to the bottom, and that liabilities turn into assets depending on how you look at them.
  • Begins with the end firmly in mind, and sticks to a shared plan of action.
  • Understands that the life of a community is a marathon, not a sprint (but celebrates winning the stages as well).

So, how does historic preservation, open space planning, and affordable housing planning fit into creating a wise economy?  Both historic and open space resources are clearly the very type of differentiators that Rucker speaks of - your community's assets are the things that make your community unique.  Recognizing these assets and preserving them are steps one and two.  Figuring out how to utilize that uniqueness is the next step - what is your plan of action and how does it enhance local economy?

Providing affordable housing in your community is economic development in a different way than historic preservation and open space planning.  Much has been written about the direct link between the availability of affordable workforce housing and the growth of the local economy.  The Massachusetts Foundation for Growth blog has much written on this subject:  more housing creates opportunity for more job growth.  In the Summer 2011 issue of the Planning Commissioners Journal, Rebecca Cohen and Keith Wardrip detail the non-social benefits of affordable housing in the article "The Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Affordable Housing."    Cohen and Wardrip state that "From an employer's perspective, a lack of affordable housing can put a local economy at a competitive disadvantage."  So, in addition to looking at the need for more affordable housing from the perspective of social need, we should also be looking from the perspective of economic need.   If we did this, analysis of housing need in our housing production plans, for example, would change and the way we advocate for housing in our communities would also change.

And then there is the idea of creative placemaking as a framework for economic development. . . but maybe I'll get to that in a future post.