Director's Column

Learning from Detroit

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Download Main Street Now PDF 2010/05_06

"You're the network we want to become." That was just one of the reactions I got when introducing myself (and the Main Street field), at the annual BALLE Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, where I had a rare opportunity to step outside of the "Main Street world" and see our work in a new way. 

Some of you may have heard about BALLE – the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies – where talk about "food hubs," "fair trade," "slow money," and "social finance" are thrown around as casually as the Main Street Four Point Approach®. Their local alliances of sustainable businesses, socially responsible investors, and leading-edge thinkers are just bursting at the seams with bold ideas, challenging economic theories, and entrepreneurial innovations. In other words, the kind of network we ALL want to be.

New movements and networks by groups such as BALLE are charging ahead into a new economy, with a confidence and ambition rarely seen these days in the business development arena. What is creating such a buzz in the current business climate? With more than 20,000 entrepreneurs linked together, they are adamant about creating "local living economies through the building blocks of independent retail, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, green building, local zero-waste manufacturing, community capital, independent media, and local arts and culture."

Whew… that's a tall order. And a few years ago, many might have considered it a pipe dream. But my recent experiences with the "local living economies" folks have convinced me that radically new possibilities for Main Streets are on the horizon – as local hubs for a new way of doing business and as locations for living with a local purpose. More than just a laundry list of nice ideas and good intentions, they are taking on some of the toughest issues in our economy today and building a powerful momentum in the few years since their founding. Those wanting to explore this sister movement in more depth can go to www.livingeconomies.org and get a taste.

This issue of Main Street Now takes a fascinating look at "local living economies" growing in what many have dismissed as one of the least hospitable places for business and innovation – Detroit. The author, Dan Carmody, is not only a leading practitioner in the Main Street field; he is also one of the urban pioneers in the Motor City. As president of the region's premier public market – Eastern Market Corporation, Carmody and his staff are building a full-blown "local food hub" that is revitalizing the business district around the market, and in turn, regenerating the historic core of Detroit. Like the BALLE network, there is much for Main Street to learn from Detroit, and the brave revitalization strategies being forged there. With time, commitment, and local passion, they might have a thing or two to show the rest of the nation about fully harnessing the power of Main Street to create a sustainable and livable world.