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ILSR’s Work to Create Vibrant Local Economies Referenced in AlterNet

| Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on Feb 6, 2018 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

In the News: Christopher Mitchell & Olivia LaVecchia

February 6th, 2018

Media Outlet: AlterNet

Independent journalist Valerie Vande Panne is interested in the concept of a “smart city”, what makes a city “smart”, and the ideas behind this designation. For her investigation, Panne turned to two of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s experts to answer her questions about smart cities and about the value of vibrant local economies.

Here are Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks initiative director Christopher Mitchell‘s and Community Scaled Economy research associate Olivia LaVecchia‘s contributions:

Often cities look at growth rates or traditional economic indicators, Abu Ghazaleh explains. But what’s missing in those plans that make the numbers move is the human aspect. Abu Ghazaleh says a “social impact indicator” would give a more accurate indication of the “status of the state of affairs of the impact on society, just like we have the economic and financial indicators that are very visible, very much watched, and very much announced.”

At the same time, many cities, in favor of business models that can move those traditional indicators, have “discounted their local business community and local economic development,” says Olivia LaVecchia, research associate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “Some cities haven’t realized how important [local small businesses] are for an economically resilient city” and continue to put their eggs into the baskets of massive corporations, like GE or Amazon.

ILSR approaches cities more as nation-state communities, says Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at ILSR. They help cities “do their best with what [they] have.” A fundamental question they ask is, “Are resources staying in the community or are they leaving the community?”

Often, the harm a giant corporation or big-box store does to a community doesn’t seem to be measured using traditional indicators. Box stores will use what’s known as the “dark store tactic” to reduce or eliminate their tax responsibility, LaVecchia explains. Since the big-box chain-store business model is to build a purpose-built store that has no resale value, the store, they argue, should be compared with stores that are closed, so a brand new Lowe’s might be valued as closed and compared to other closed stores. With this tactic, big-box stores “are winning big slashes in what they owe in property tax, and in some cases cities have to refund back property tax,” LaVecchia says. Not only is the company not paying tax into the community, the company is extracting ever more resources from the community.

Yet many cities place priority on that type of private sector “growth.” Rather, the focus, Abu Ghazaleh argues, should be on “the impact on the citizen, on the society.”

We have “state-centric” data, such as unemployment data, inflation data, high school completion data, he says. Instead, cities should be looking at “people-centric” data that can show how a society is moving or progressing (or regressing).

For LaVecchia, it’s “about creating a generally supportive environment”—often with zoning policies that restrict franchises, chains and box stores, and facilitate small businesses and walkable communities. Zoning can also be used to bring back the night sky and generally create a happier environment for the community.

And states can also make interesting policies. In North Dakota, in order to own a pharmacy, “you have to be a pharmacist,” explains LaVecchia. “So CVS, Walgreens, can’t open there. It keeps control in the hands of locals, and it keeps it more competitive, gives more pharmacy access in rural areas, with competitive prices. Some evidence suggests a higher level of service. With smart policies you end up with a more competitive environment and benefits associated with that.”

Read the full story here.