Asset Based Downtown Development

Downtown management organizations, often times referred to as business improvement districts (BID’s), spend a great deal of time developing strategy around revitalizing and sustaining commercial corridors. Within these organizations the normalized approach, quite naturally, has been a needs-based one that evaluates deficits and focuses on securing external resources for development initiatives. Small towns as well as commercial districts in residential communities that are outside of a city’s downtown core would be better served by an asset-based approach to commercial development that mirrors a broader neighborhood development strategy.

The idea of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) as a studied approach has grown out of some research by John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann at Northwestern University; in essence, it is a “methodology for the sustainable development of communities based on their strengths and potentials. The ABCD Institute, located at Steans Center for Community-Based Service Learning (at DePaul University), continues to hone in on this approach and is worthy of checking out.

The roundedness of this approach is far reaching and applicable beyond the world of community development. Partners for Sacred Places, a Philadelphia based national non-denominational non-profit, is doing this style of asset-based work with religious groups across the country. Their stated mission is to “help congregations leverage existing and new resources, solidify their continued relevance and ensure their own sustainability.”

In the Germantown section of Philadelphia the Germantown Special Services District (GSSD) has set the ABCD approach at the core of it’s revitalization strategy. Serving the central business district in a Germantown neighborhood with a 328-year history, the GSSD spent a great deal of time in 2017 building relationships with district resident’s, merchants, institutions, organizations and property owners. In 2018 the organization will take to the task of asset mapping in a manner that seeks to encourage broader community co-investment in home-grown merchant concepts. In this way GSSD and its community partners will operate as self-actualizing agents; empowering existing merchants through translating metrics that serve rather than neglect their interests, while, at the same time, engaging area entrepreneur minded residents in the process of business attraction. The GSSD is broadening narratives; adding value for the property owners and merchants within the business district without raising cost.

Take time to follow their work on Instagram @GermantownSSD.

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