Chandra Rouse, MUP 2019

Summer 20118

Organization: South East Chicago Commission, Chicago, IL

Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship


“Activating business corridors not only fosters neighborhood engagement with local the business community but also builds community. During my third week, I learned about how neighborhood business development centers can build community and promote local spending through events and festivals. The City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) provides funding to not-for-profit organizations to provide business development assistance to Chicago’s small business community through its Neighborhood Business Development Centers (NBDC) program. As a NBDC, the SECC provides customized business counseling, fosters neighborhood engagement with the local business community, drives neighborhood economic vitality through business attraction and retention, enlists small businesses in making their neighborhoods safer for business, and builds their capacity to more effectively deliver services.

SECC also works in partnership with the City of Chicago (City) to significantly improve the small business experience in Chicago by helping address common challenges and support key City priorities. As part of this partnership, SECC attends triannual meetings called ChiBiz Chat to learn about the latest NBDC program-related updates, participate in speaker discussions, network and exchange best practices.

At the end of my third week, I attended a ChiBiz Chat and spoke with representatives of the other NBDCs across the city about how NBDCs can successfully activate business corridors. The NDBC had shared goals for events like cultural festivals, Small Business Saturday and holiday decorating. These goals included economic prosperity and improving quality of life, but success looked different for each neighborhood. Setting concrete steps for corridor activation and priorities for each NBDC requires defining what success looks like. I think that it is important to consider the following questions to determine success:

  • What makes for a vibrant business corridor, and how do we lift that up in our neighborhoods?
  • How do we support programmatic connections that will strengthen the sense of community across neighborhoods?
  • What is the impact of anchor institutions, and how do anchor institutions provide an opportunity as it relates to the shared overall goal of NBDCs?
  • What is the right level of neighborhood engagement?

Determining success enables NBDCs to think more broadly than encouraging event attendees to spend money in our neighborhoods. It allows them to think about creating the type of experience that they want an event attendee to have. People do not come to events to learn about the businesses located in their neighborhoods. People come to have experiences, and NBDCs can create these experiences. These shared experiences of the event attendees inform peoples’ sense of community and help them build connection to a place including their local business corridor.”