Pratt Center Project

Sustainable Community Development

Planning for Neighborhood Retail

Diverse commercial corridors with thriving locally-owned businesses lead to prosperous and vibrant neighborhoods.

Local shopping districts with a range of retail and community-responsive services are integral to socially and economically healthy neighborhoods. But many of New York City’s low- and moderate-income communities are without thriving commercial areas.

Dilapidated commercial space, big box store development, poorly planned corridors, and rising storefront rents are but a few examples of the everyday challenges facing local merchants – from new entrepreneurs to small businesses that have been around for decades.

As part of our broader work in sustainable community planning, Pratt Center partners with community development corporations, Business Improvement Districts, merchants' associations and other community partners to strengthen local commercial areas so that they better respond to community needs. By providing technical assistance, engaging local stakeholders, and recommending various public and private interventions to improve neighborhood retail, Pratt Center’s work helps local groups to:

Expand retail offerings in underserved neighborhoods
Many neighborhoods experience severe retail leakage, whereby local households are forced to go far afield for such basic necessities as fresh groceries. Pratt Center helps local groups identify and implement strategies to fill vacant storefronts and attract needed businesses to expand neighborhood-serving retail in places that lack it.

Ensure affordable shopping and retail in neighborhoods with low and moderate-income households
As some neighborhoods undergo significant commercial gentrification, longtime residents may no longer be able to afford shopping in their own communities. Pratt Center’s approach to enhancing local retail recognizes that many neighborhoods need a diversity of retail price points to effectively serve areas that are socio-economically diverse.

Create opportunities for independent retail to thrive
Many neighborhoods are experiencing an influx of large national chain outlets, from banks to drug stores. These establishments can threaten the future of independent outlets while changing the character of local and largely “Mom and Pop” shopping districts. Pratt Center’s retail work aims to help communities strike an appropriate balance between independent and chain stores.

To achieve these goals, we utilize a range of community planning approaches including:

  • Creating and implementing needs assessment surveys of local shoppers and business owners
  • Conducting field surveys and documenting the findings to create inventories of existing conditions and retail/service inventories
  • Engaging local stakeholders in visioning sessions
  • Analyzing development potential of soft/underdeveloped retail sites
  • Identifying opportunities for improving public transportation, streetscape conditions, and placemaking

Some of our neighborhood retail projects include:

Fulton Mall
Fulton Street Mall: New Strategies for Preservation and Planning was a collaborative project of the Pratt Center for Community Development and Minerva Partners. It aimed to lay the groundwork for Fulton Street Mall’s future by combining the best historic preservation and redevelopment measures in order to preserve and nurture the Mall as a unique and vibrant public place. The project was developed using a “values based” preservation planning approach, an innovative method for studying and planning the future of historic places. Values-based preservation planning recognizes that places – or spaces made culturally meaningful by use and users – are important to different types of constituents for different reasons. It takes into consideration that meaning and value change over time: in order to fully understand the meaning of a place, and its potential for the future, one must examine the various ways in which the place is valued by different contemporary constituents. This requires looking at the economy, the built environment, and the culture of a place, as a whole, before determining what should be retained or transformed. And it requires deliberately bringing the voices of Mall users into the conversation. Click here to read the full report.

Church Avenue Retail Study
The Church Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) retained Pratt Center to conduct a retail market study and needs assessment to ensure that the already successful retail strip -- the shopping hub of Flatbush -- better serves a neighborhood where the poor and middle class live side by side.
The study, surveying the strip from Coney Island Avenue to Flatbush Avenue, looked at what shoppers and residents are buying on Church Avenue and also what they are buying elsewhere. The study additionally examined Church Avenue's mix of retail and the quality of goods of and services offered. Using a survey developed in partnership with Pratt Center, the BID asked merchants what challenges they faced in striving to operate successful businesses on Church Avenue. We also assessed residents' needs through demographic analysis, information about the customer base and offerings of competing shopping districts, and extensive community outreach efforts. Click here to read the full report.

Coney Island For All
A coalition of community, labor, and housing organizations concerned with the future of Coney Island joined in support of Coney Island for All: A Platform for Equitable Development, on which Pratt Center served as a key advisor. The platform outlines measures to ensure that new development in the beloved seaside area helps meet the area's deep needs for good jobs, affordable housing, retail services, preservation, and expansion of the historic amusement area and other community benefits.

The platform calls for, among other measures, responsible contractor and wage standards; training and hiring opportunities for residents in the area, where unemployment is at 13 percent; a commitment to making at least half of all new housing affordable to low, moderate, and middle-income New Yorkers (with half of that in turn affordable to the typical Coney Island household); use of City-owned land for affordable housing; encouragement of small retail businesses and restrictions on chain stores; and investments in improving and expanding local infrastructure, including new schools and a full-service supermarket. Click here to read the full report.