The rapid urban population growth has been well-documented and heralds the revitalization of so many American cities. Millennials, especially, are choosing to live in cities because of their diversity, vibrancy and cultural texture. But to some degree, this feel is at risk as large chain retailers are looking to “mall-ize” urban America.
Planners and many residential developers are unhappily looking at the influx of formula retailers into vibrant urban downtown neighborhoods. Residents who chose their neighborhoods because of the pulse there feel similarly. As a Mayor, I agree with them.
In Jersey City, we are looking to maintain our eclectic and unique retail mix by limiting certain types of stores, restaurants and banks. Under our plan, which is similar to what San Francisco has done, only 30 percent of commercial space in certain downtown areas can be rented to a business that has 10 other properties within 300 miles of Jersey City. Grocery stores are exempt. This plan should serve as a model for other American cities.
Some say the free market should decide who rents retail space but that’s a false choice. Think about it. In maintaining the texture of our city, we are also boosting the small business owners who have significantly contributed to our revival by investing so heavily in their boutiques, stores and restaurants. They have helped to make Jersey City a magnet for development, so why let the national chains push them aside now that these corporate giants see a lucrative market they did little to help create.
Small business owners typically live close to where they work so local entrepreneurs are fully invested in their communities and every day we see the difference this makes in Jersey City. In the last 18 months over 150 small businesses, including 50 restaurants, have opened in Jersey City and we want to see more come our way. In fact, the unemployment rate has fallen faster in Jersey City than any other city in our region and is outpacing the state of New Jersey as well. This strongly suggests that encouraging small business start ups and expansion is a key to reducing unemployment as they make up 99 percent of American private sector employers.
The commitment small business owners bring to a city helps make their communities more livable. This initiative in Jersey City not only creates jobs and improves the quality of life for residents, it also is smart urban planning that will bring more vitality to neighborhoods. It’s a policy other cities should follow.
Steven Fulop is Mayor of Jersey City, NJ.
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