Rethinking neighborhood commercial development

Business placement is an important activity when trying to create vibrant, thriving business districts, corridors and nodes. Successful communities will be those that creatively rethink the mix and location of neighborhood commercial development.

The transition of the State from an old economy to a new economy, from an industrial-dominated one to a knowledge-based one will challenge planners and other local decision-makers to give more thought to the location and mix of businesses in their downtown areas, key business corridors and important community nodes.

Historically, many planners simply designated commercial uses on major collector streets and their adjacent intersections. As a result, many communities designated too much land for commercial that would never materialize. Even when communities had vibrant neighborhood commercial in these areas, as their economy changed and many of these uses moved to better located strip malls and regional malls, many still maintained commercial land use designations near these key intersections.

As the economy has changed, planners have realized two important realities for neighborhood commercial development. First, many such districts designate too much land to commercial uses only with residential uses being completely prohibited. Secondly, successful corridors will be developed on a node concept where commercial development will occur at strategic intersections, surrounded by supporting multi-family and single-family land uses. Also, there will be a more blending of commercial and residential uses that will be needed to create economically sustainable districts, corridors and nodes.

Local commercial districts cater to adjacent residential populations. For some communities, such as Detroit, that have lost whole neighborhoods, the goal will be to attract residents into redevelopment areas at a density capable of supporting local business development. Such businesses have been of the services variety, providing such services as dry cleaning, hair care, tax services, convenience store shopping, etc. Reducing the amount of land designated for such uses and concentrating those uses at strategic intersections or nodes will help to create vibrant focal points of development. The decreased commercial land uses can then be replaced with multi-family and in the right locations, single-family housing development.

Neighborhood commercial can still be a viable land use in many communities; however, Michigan State University Extension recommends that real thought be given to the best locations for such development and the supporting land uses that will be needed to make sure such areas are economically successful. 

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