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Download the chapter: Retail Trade as a Path to Neighborhood Revitalization by Karen Chapple and Rick Jacobus

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A condensed version of the chapter was also produced by UC Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation.

From the introduction:
“Retail trade is a highly visible feature in a community, and is often a symbol of economic status. Terms like “upscale retail,” “strip mall,” or “big box store,” convey very different images of retail trade that are widely associated with economic prosperity, or the lack thereof. But, does retail trade really revitalize run down or neglected neighborhoods? And if so, what are the mechanisms at work, the successful strategies, and necessary conditions that lead to success? In “Retail Trade as a Route to Neighborhood Revitalization,” Karen Chapple and Rick Jacobus tackle these questions. They begin by defining the issues and expectations associated with retail development and neighborhood revitalization. The authors state that, from the perspective of residents, there are three types of neighborhood revitalization: more access to services and opportunities for low-income populations; changes from a low-income neighborhood to a mixed income neighborhood (due either to an influx of newcomers or increases in incomes for local residents); and gentrification that gradually replaces existing low-income residents with more affluent newcomers. Using a conceptual model, Chapple and Jacobus describe the relationship between retail development and neighborhood revitalization.

Their review of the literature finds mixed evidence for the assumption that low-income neighborhoods are underserved, and limited formal evaluation of the effects of retail development, especially with respect to overall neighborhood improvement. The authors acknowledge the challenges to evaluating retail development programs, such as their small scale, the variety of actors involved, and limited neighborhood level capacity. In reviewing the evidence, Chapple and Jacobus examine three broad strategies to retail revitalization: public-led retail development, private-led retail development, and commercial corridor revitalization. Retail strategies variously target job creation, vacancy rates, private investment, public investment, tax revenues and property values, crime and safety, and community identity. In order to further explore the relationship between these retail development goals and neighborhood revitalization, Chapple and Jacobus provide a case study of the San Francisco Bay Area, analyzing the relationship between retail and neighborhood revitalization from 1990 to 2005 in a region with unusual increases in income inequality accompanied by significant revitalization. They find that the way the retail sector changes is closely related to how the neighborhood changes, with increases in middle income residents (rather than gentrification or other forms of change) most closely associated with retail revitalization.

The paper concludes with the suggestion that any large-scale impacts of retail development on community economic health occur indirectly, such as through changes in internal and external perceptions of the neighborhood and, ultimately, changes in neighborhood residential composition. But, the authors note that existing studies of the effectiveness of neighborhood retail development strategies have not explored these broader impacts. Chapple and Jacobus also recommend further research to address how outcomes for the poor are tied to the specific character of neighborhood change. Such research might suggest specific retail development strategies that are most likely to benefit the poor and lead to stable mixed-income communities without contributing to displacement of the poor.”