This blog post is part of the Everyday Destinations series, which focuses on increasing physical activity in small and rural communities through everyday destinations. Start your journey here.
Commercial spaces are a key component of vibrant communities. Commercial development coordination refers to strategies to ensure that commercial projects are in line with a community's vision for growth within one or more specific locations.
This approach offers multiple economic, social, health, and environmental benefits. Stores, restaurants, and offices offer residents and visitors access to goods and services. They also provide access to jobs, complement public amenities such as parks and libraries, increase the local tax base, and reduce pressure to develop open space.
When communities plan for new commercial developments in existing centers of activity (sometimes referred to as commercial corridor redevelopment), they reduce the need to extend infrastructure and services to undeveloped areas, a decision that can reduce costs for municipalities.
This approach differs from greenfield development, where communities need to expand infrastructure and services to previously undeveloped areas.
Centrally located commercial developments also create more opportunities to engage in active transportation. In mixed-use areas, commercial developments can increase access to destinations by bringing stores, workplaces, and services nearer to residential areas.
This strategy can align with multiple planning approaches that encourage redevelopment of existing buildings, including infill development [link to blog post], gray/brownfield redevelopment, mixed-use development, pedestrian-oriented development, and adaptive reuse.
Commercial developments that are scattered throughout a rural area can have adverse impacts on community members with lower incomes and groups that have been marginalized. Decentralized commercial development can create disproportionate transportation costs, scheduling challenges, and safety concerns, particularly for community members without access to an automobile.
Such decentralized commercial development can be a precursor or reinforcer of sprawl and inequitable distribution of goods and services. These conditions can contribute to social isolation, reduced opportunities for economic improvements, higher public infrastructure and services costs, and adverse effects on the natural environment.
Commercial development can have positive impacts on all community members when coordinated with other land uses and destinations and when organized around community priorities. Well-coordinated commercial development can improve access to everyday destinations for people with limited mobility, including people with disabilities, older adults, and families with small children.
Maintaining affordability and access is a top priority to ensure that all community members share the benefits of commercial developments, regardless of income level. To further amplify benefits for all, practitioners can encourage developers to integrate components that enhance quality of life for residents, such as workforce development investments, as part of new commercial projects.
Coordinating Commercial Development: This section of storefronts in Philipsburg, Montana, illustrates how small businesses can create accessible everyday destinations. Source: Jasperdo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Philipsburg, Montana - Downtown Philipsburg.
Connection to Small and Rural Towns
Small and rural towns stand to benefit significantly from implementing strategic commercial development practices.
By planning for new businesses within an existing commercial area, communities can reduce adverse impacts of scattered development, including the potential to reduce the quality and quantity of open spaces, such as agricultural land, conserved natural areas, and recreational parks. Planning for commercial development can also increase the local tax base, attract visitors, and connect destinations.
It is important to determine whether there is demand for additional commercial space. If so, new developments can increase access to goods and services.
Increasing commercial space can present economic risks, such as difficulty in filling large commercial spaces, including grocery stores and office spaces, and increased maintenance demands associated with new utilities and services required by commercial real estate.
There may be less risk associated with redevelopment of existing commercial spaces, however, and communities will need to decide what degree of risk is tolerable.
In communities experiencing shrinking populations, it may be helpful to emphasize strategies that increase the resilience of existing commercial areas, such as town squares and commercial corridors, and determine whether redevelopment is a feasible option.
Case Example: Tigard and Tualatin, Oregon
In 2019, the Metro Portland area adopted the Southwest Corridor Equitable Development Strategy, a plan that addresses community transportation needs and equitable growth considerations. The strategy connects the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project and equitable development that focuses on increasing access throughout the Portland metro area.
It includes Tigard and Tualatin, two exurban communities south of Portland projected to grow significantly over the next two decades. Tigard is forecasted to add over 9,000 households and almost 20,000 jobs between 2010 and 2040, while Tualatin is expected to increase by almost 1,000 households and around 14,000 jobs in the same period (Metro 2012).
Metro Portland developed this strategy to address current needs within the corridor, prepare for the changing transportation and economic needs of the region, and encourage equitable benefits for all community members. It places a strong emphasis on community development and investments in housing, community amenities, and support for existing community members and businesses to encourage equitable growth. It also advocates for affordable commercial space within the transportation corridor.
This strategy aligns commercial development with the overall vision of the region, which creates conditions for a connected network of destinations.
The plan identifies community engagement activities and partners to advance local goals, including public, nonprofit, and private entities that form the Southwest Corridor Project Oversight Committee.
In the short term, it creates pilot projects to support small business owners and underserved entrepreneurs in downtown Tigard. In the long term, it establishes three distinct goals related to commercial development: workforce stability, business stability, and community development.
These goals are separated into two- to five-year initiatives with lead organizations, many of which are underway and at different points of completion (Metro 2019).
Strategic Points of Intervention
Practitioners have a variety of options to help their communities coordinate commercial development. This section provides a non-exhaustive list of strategies that professionals with the ability to influence the built environment can use to improve access to everyday destinations.
Collaboration between these professionals and public health is crucial as public health professionals can support planning approaches and engage partners but may not have the authority to implement some of the strategies identified below.
For more information on the role of public health professionals in helping implement these strategies. For more information on other partners that play a role in implementing the growth area identification approach.
This blog encourages communication and engagement between public health and planners to discuss approaches that might be applicable in their community. The following list of strategies can help professionals from different sectors come together and implement planning approaches that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations.
Planners and public health professionals can collaborate to create equitable engagement to collect and act on community needs. Communities should select strategies based on their contexts and constraints. The links at the end of the actions provide more guidance materials and examples from small and rural towns across the country.
Community Visioning and Goal Setting
- Engage community members and partners in commercial corridor development public engagement activities to understand their priorities and identify how commercial developments can support those priorities.
- Host community visioning activities, such as design charettes, at or near commercial corridors to better understand physical, social, and economic conditions that may influence future commercial developments.
- Conduct a Health Impact Assessment to identify opportunities, risks, and potential consequences of investments in commercial development on public health (American Planning Association 2016).
- Identify goals for creating inclusive public spaces in commercial areas. This ensures that commercial development spaces are inclusive for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
- Assess existing plans, regulations, and guidance to understand gaps in coordinating commercial development to align with community goals (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2019).
- Identify opportunities to coordinate commercial corridor development through comprehensive planning processes.
- Communities may choose to dive deeper by planning at a smaller geographic scale or focusing on a specific community goal, such as economic development.
- Identify suitable spaces for commercial development, such as downtowns, commercial corridors, and industrial areas.
- Collect information through planning studies of commercial areas and commercial market analysis to determine areas suitable for private and public investments.
- Assess existing multimodal transportation options to prioritize opportunities for active transportation improvements, such as complete streets, near commercial developments.
- Identify whether it may be helpful to form community organizations, such as business improvement districts, to facilitate and enhance commercial development projects.
- Organizations formed as part of a comprehensive planning process can advance shared community priorities.
Regulations and Incentives
- Generate incentives for mixed-use redevelopment, such as increased development capacity, reduced parking requirements, and expedited development review for projects that align with commercial development priorities.
- Adopt standards that encourage commercial developments to contribute to existing community character and reduce adverse impacts on surrounding land uses, including residential spaces.
- Ensure that zoning regulations permit uses within specific commercial areas that align with desired development (Nelson 2012). Public health professionals and planners can work together to review regulations to ensure alignment with community goals.
- Encourage mixed-use development closer to activity-friendly routes to increase accessibility to commercial destinations (Zaccaro 2019).
- Adopt criteria for development within commercial corridors that prioritize community goals and strategies.
- Determine whether infill development incentives are a feasible option to encourage commercial development on underutilized lots.
- Seek historic site information to determine site suitability for commercial development (e.g., previous uses, potential environmental contaminants).
- Provide examples of commercial development projects that reflect community goals. This approach can help a prospective developer envision project elements that fulfill community goals.
- Share data and information that illustrates how pedestrian-oriented practices and site design can positively impact business activity along a corridor (Fremont n.d.).
- Encourage developers to integrate community health priorities in their commercial development projects.
- Connect with small business owners to identify commercial space needs.
- Identify partnerships to encourage reuse of commercial space, such as shopping malls and commercial strips, that concentrate commercial activity near communities.
- Select publicly owned public spaces, such as community facilities [blog link] that could serve as an anchoring point for future commercial development. This process may benefit from partnerships with community organizations and institutions to implement sustainable projects.
- Provide small business owners with loans and grants to implement strategies that improve commercial corridor conditions. This strategy can be organized through local economic development agencies.
- Create tools, such as training and grant programs for small business owners, to streamline commercial site selection processes.
- Assess available parking to determine whether there are opportunities to activate underutilized commercial parking through public art installations, parklets, and other placemaking activities. Activating such spaces would motivate people to use non-motorized mode of transportation to access commercial destinations.
Communities have active organizations, leaders, and professionals that can contribute to implementing the strategies provided in the previous section.
Built environment and public health professionals should consider, and if applicable, reach out to the following groups to coordinate commercial development. These groups can also recommend other organizations that may be able to collaborate.
The following nonexhaustive list of partners offers potential starting points — there may be more partners to consider, depending on the community.
- Connect with residents and community organizations to understand commercial corridor needs.
- Connect with local institutions, nonprofits, and small business owners to develop a context-sensitive understanding of current conditions and future growth needs.
- Work with neighboring municipalities to promote a regional approach to commercial development.
- Collaborate with transit agencies to plan for connectivity between commercial spaces and transportation options, and to increase amenities for walking, cycling, and transit riders (Zaccaro 2019).
- Collaborate with county and regional partners to determine opportunities to participate in programs focused on commercial corridors and gather information regarding how commercial development may impact future conditions such as freight travel and development patterns.
- Collaborate with local health departments to collect health data that could inform where developments are located, such as food access, walkshed information, and pollution levels.
We are interested in case examples that support physical activity through everyday destinations in communities with a population less than 20,000 people. If you are aware of such communities, please share their stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. By directing us to such articles you can help other small and rural communities become more active and healthier.
Read this post and visit the Everyday Destinations project page for background information, additional context, and overarching considerations that support creating great communities for all.
American Planning Association. 2016. Health Impact Assessment Toolkit for Planners.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. 2019. The Active Communities Tool (ACT): An Action Planning Guide and Assessment Modules to Improve Community Built Environments to Promote Physical Activity. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fremont (California), City of. n.d. Summary of Centerville Design Guidelines.
Hammerschmidt, Sara, Aysha Cohen, and Grant Hayes. 2016. Building Healthy Corridors: Transforming Urban and Suburban Arterials into Thriving Places. Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute.
Metro. 2012. Metro 'Gamma' Forecast Distribution Jurisdiction Reviewed Households And Employment Profiles by City and County 2025 / 2035 / 2040. Metro Economic and Land Use Forecasting
———. 2019. Opportunities in Equitable Development: Southwest Corridor.
———. 2019a. Southwest Corridor Equitable Development Strategy.
Nelson, Kevin. 2012. Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Rural Planning, Zoning, and Development Codes. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Zaccaro, Heather. 2019. Blind Spots: How Unhealthy Corridors Harm Communities and How to Fix Them. Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute.
Active People, Healthy Nation
Active People, Healthy NationSM is a national initiative led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.
Top Image: Brett, VA/flickr.com (CC by 2.0). Columbia Pike Penrose square waiting 4 bus.
About the Authors
Jo Peña is a research associate with APA.
Sagar Shah is a planning and community health manager with APA.