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A New Path to Economic Development

February 8, 2013

There was a time when the term “economic development,” as used by most public officials and business leaders, referred to the practice of luring firms and jobs to a jurisdiction by selling companies on the benefits of that community — such as favorable tax rates — and providing monetary incentives to locate there. Now, communities increasingly are realizing that the quality of the places within the community are playing a larger role in today’s economic decisions.

It may be surprising, in an age when much work can be done through a fast internet connection, that location and place seem to be more important than ever. But, in fact, many communities understand that in a world where a job can be located anywhere, people need to have a good reason to choose their city or town.

English consultant and writer Charles Landry stresses the economic importance of place, especially of commercial streets that provide a compelling experience and bring people together. He makes the case that places need “distinction” — emphasizing what is unique about them; “variety” — of people, businesses, culture, buildings; and “flow,” the ability of people to choose their own walking paths at their own pace. Landry makes a direct link between these physical manifestations of place and attracting talent and business.

In this issue of On Common Ground, we consider the role placemaking plays in economic development today. From celebrating the uniqueness of a place to bringing amenities such as food markets to make more complete walkable neighborhoods, placemaking is becoming a leading economic development strategy.