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The Building Blocks of Place-Based COVID Recovery Strategies

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“Diagnosing a Commercial District”, authored by Streetsense Managing Director Larisa Ortiz and published by Local Initiative Support Corporation with funding from Citi Community Development, is available for download here. The award-winning framework has been recognized by the American Planning Association and the International Downtown Association.


Communities across the country are grappling with trying to identify and prioritize pandemic recovery strategies that have a meaningful and lasting impact. For the Streetsense Public Non-Profit team, we believe that a comprehensive diagnostic is a critical first step to ensuring actions are taken and investments made by our partners support strong economic recovery. We liken the diagnostic process to that of going to a doctor. Very few would undergo intensive medical treatment without a doctor’s diagnosis. A medical diagnosis often includes detailed analysis, everything from blood work to x-rays to the tracking of vital signs, to name but a few metrics. 


In many ways, diagnosing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to place-based strategies is no different than going to the doctor. Yet too many communities, in a rush to take action, neglect to spend time finding a diagnosis or worse still make an incorrect diagnosis and end up advancing policies, committing limited staff resources, and investing millions of taxpayer dollars in strategies and projects that offer little hope of addressing what is often a combination of structural and tactical challenges that impact their downtowns and neighborhood business districts.


Our Public Non Profit team at Streetsense has developed a comprehensive diagnostic of place widely known as the Commercial DNA approach – a four-pronged analytical framework that assesses the health and conditions of a community by looking at the following: 1) the physical environment; 2) the business environment, 3) market demand, and 4) the adaptive capacity, leadership, resources and regulations necessary to support successful execution, perhaps the most critical piece of the diagnostic puzzle.


We apply this methodology to our work and our clients across the country. Most recently, our team was selected to lead program development for the State of Massachusetts’ Local Rapid Recovery Planning initiative and Foundation for Puerto Rico’s Bottom Up Destination Planning.


State of Massachusetts Local Rapid Recovery Planning

The Commercial DNA framework is being modified and used to inform the development of COVID recovery plans – Local Rapid Recovery Plans – throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The framework will inform a planning approach used in dozens of communities throughout the state as part of a $9.5 million COVID recovery planning effort supported by Streetsense. By standardizing data collection, the effort will ensure that the State collects comparable baseline data across downtowns throughout the Commonwealth, demonstrating the impacts of COVID on business districts and enabling statewide comparisons of each downtown. For more information see here.


Puerto Rico Bottom Up Destination Plans Released

In Puerto Rico, Streetsense was engaged to develop “Bottom Up Destination Plans” rooted in an adaptation of the framework that we call “Community DNA”. In December, Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) released the first set of Bottom Up Destination Plans for Aguadilla/Isabela and Cabo Rojo/San Germán in concert with its virtual conference, “Puerto Rico as a Destination: Community, Planning, and Tourism”. The plans co-designed by lead consultant Streetsense and its team of partners, Foundation for Puerto Rico, and most importantly, community stakeholders, outline a series of strategic investments and areas for policy development aimed at enhancing tourism assets in each region to ensure sustained economic growth. To determine gaps in tourism offerings and to identify strategies and projects that aligned with the interests and priorities of each community, the Destination Planning Team utilized the Commercial DNA (Commercial DNA) framework to diagnose the challenges and opportunities in each region.


The assessments and analyzes outlined in each document depart from traditional planning processes by focusing on a combination of community interventions that reflect an assessment of areas of opportunity, the consensus of local leaders on the vision of development destination, and emphasis on multisectoral collaborations. Our work continues this year as we develop destination plans for the East Region in Fajardo/Luquillo and Ceiba/Naguabo. For more updates on the Destination Plans, visit FPR Bottom Up Destination Recovery Initiative.



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