In many U.S. cities, finding and keeping an affordable location has become a major challenge for independent businesses. Two years ago, we took an in-depth look at the issue in our report, Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It. We examined what’s causing the problem — from real estate financing that compels developers to exclude independent businesses, to the declining supply of small spaces — and also outlined six strategies that cities were beginning to use to address it.
Now, one of those strategies is catching on: Set-asides for local businesses in new development. It’s a strategy that requires developers to reserve, or “set aside,” space for small or local businesses in new construction, and it can help ensure that a built environment that’s suited to small businesses isn’t replaced with one designed for chains. In three cities — New York, Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo. — there are new programs that offer examples for how set-asides can work.