Within every community are two economies: one is locally generated, or “place-based,” and sustains assets at home, while the other operates remotely, extracts local value, and sends it elsewhere. Regeneration of a community depends on retaining and growing small, locally owned enterprises that simultaneously build cultural, social, built and financial capital. While big businesses dominate global markets, command the entrenched financial and banking powers and are incentivized by misguided government policy, emerging startups can disrupt the status quo and prove that local economies can compete successfully if they connect with their customer base and build capacity through local networks. The challenge for Lean Urbanism is to take charge at the association and neighborhood levels: to monitor, harness and replicate emerging local business successes and through bottom-up vigilance influence top-down policy to change not just the economic dynamics of a region, but strengthen its cultural, social and built landscape.
At a time when we are re-connecting with our urban roots, a return to Small Town America may be the perfect anecdote for recouping a vast amount of discarded national wealth in infrastructure, natural resources and historic architecture while simultaneously building community in a Lean way, with Lean tools and tactics. Our rural and suburban landscape is home to a network of more than 25,000 small urban gems boasting hidden assets and opportunities — places that may be the best locations to pioneer trends in Lean living, entrepreneurial business and building.