While cities and towns look to develop long-term strategies to deal with rapid turnover in the office and retail spaces, there are steps they can take to begin to support a sustainable and robust long-term commercial economy. As many commercial centers in big cities continue to struggle to bring people back to the office, and the long-term impacts of the change in work remain unknown, it’s important for cities and towns to get ahead and prepare for what our new “work/life balance” might look like for physical space.
Many companies may be left with excess office space on a long-term lease OR smaller companies may need to locate space as we begin to return to the office in some capacity. Commercial district activity is paramount to supporting the small businesses that thrive on an office-based clientele.
Private Realm: Activating Excess Office Spaces
In big cities, getting footfall numbers up in downtowns is paramount to supporting the local economies. Encouraging larger companies that may be stuck with excess office space to list it on a city hosted platform can support pairing those office opportunities with smaller companies looking for new, flexible space, willing to sublease, bringing new energy and foot traffic back to the downtown.
In small towns and on main streets, some companies may either not require workers go back into the office at all OR provide an option for a flexible schedule, requiring a need for more flexible office space along main street. Similarly to big cities, providing that local clearing house that can serve as both an easy place to list excess office space while also pairing those individuals and small companies who are looking can be a major benefit to the local economy. It supports local workers and can help support a community’s small businesses economy by having more customers in the area at different hours of the day. It also supports the long-term stability of the region, potentially concentrating enough workers in one place that a small cluster of companies could be encouraged to open up shop there.
Private Realm: Activating Vacant Retail Spaces
Cities around the world have experimented with a number of different programs to fill vacant storefronts. A vacancy tax in cities like San Francisco is an attempt at the stick method of solving this problem while cities like London have used more of a carrot model. Supporting property owners, small businesses, and creatives to fill vacant storefront spaces, supporting the local economy and creative community while seeding a neighborhood with new energy. The London program on “Meanwhile Uses” was a great example of an opportunity to take advantage of something many cities view as a blight on the neighborhood and turn it into an opportunity. Partnering with property owners to pair these small business entities with available space, break down the barriers to entry like lease negotiations, insurance and startup costs to try and make the activation as simple as possible for all parties involved.
By activating commercial retail vacancies, even on a short-term basis, neighborhoods can provide opportunity to a small fledgling business, seeding the success of a local small business community that can serve as the backbone of a strong, stable and socially connected commercial district.