Kennedy Smith is a Senior Researcher for ILSR’s Independent Business Initiative. Her work focuses on analyzing the factors that threaten small businesses and on developing program and policy tools that communities can use to level the playing field for small businesses and to build thriving economies.

Kennedy joined ILSR’s staff in the spring of 2020, and her work quickly focused on helping small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Her “Big List of COVID-19 Assistance Programs” was visited more than 200,000 times and helped communities throughout the nation create programs to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Her 2020 report, Safeguarding Small Business During the Pandemic: 26 Strategies for Local Leaders, was the focus of more than a dozen workshops and conferences, including events for the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and for statewide organizations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, and North Carolina. She also wrote a report, Special Delivery, about the need to rein in the predatory practices of third-party delivery apps, and articles about how communities might use their federal pandemic relief funds to support and cultivate small businesses.

Her current work includes helping community leaders and local activists stop the proliferation of chain dollar stores, encouraging health food stores in underserved neighborhoods, and strengthening federal government support for small businesses. Her 2023 reports on chain dollar stores – The Dollar Store Invasion (co-authored with Stacy Mitchell and Susan Holmberg), Stop Dollar Store Proliferation in Your Community: A Strategy Guide, and 17 Problems: How Dollar Store Chains Hurt Communities – have been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, and other news media.

Kennedy’s work at ILSR builds on her years of on-the-ground experience helping towns and cities throughout North America build vibrant downtowns and neighborhood commercial centers. She served as the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Center for 14 years, where she collaborated with ILSR on issues like highlighting the dangers to small businesses of big-box development. Through her consulting work with the Community Land Use and Economics Group, which she co-founded in 2004, she helped communities throughout the world find solutions to tough revitalization and business development challenges.

In addition to her work at ILSR, Kennedy teaches graduate-level courses on historic preservation economics for Goucher College. She has an undergraduate degree in urban studies from Bryn Mawr College and a masters in architecture from the University of Virginia, and she was a 2005-2006 Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Fast Company included Kennedy on its first list of the “Fast 50 Champions of Innovation,” recognizing “creative thinkers whose sense of style and power of persuasion change what our world looks like and how our products perform.” She has been honored by Planetizen, one of the nation’s top urban planning forums, as one of the “100 Most Influential Urbanists, Past and Present” (2023) and one of the “100 Top Urban Thinkers” (2009).


Articles by Kennedy Smith

– Twitter: @kennedysmith

– email: kennedy [at]