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May 13, 2020  

Is Your City Willing to Be Flexible So Small Businesses Can Survive?

May 13, 2020

We recently came across an article in The Guardian about how Vilnius, the capital of Lithunia, is converting itself into “a vast open-air café by giving over much of its public space to hard-hit bar and restaurant owners…” According to the mayor of Vilnius (population 544,000), cafés can apply to set up outdoor tables free of charge in nearby plazas, squares, and streets. Eighteen of the city’s public spaces have been opened up — and that’s just the start. So far, more than 160 food establishments have applied to participate.

Small businesses are reeling from the effect of the COVID-19 crisis, especially those that rely on groups of people to congregate. And in a cruel twist of fate, it’s not the drive-thru chains that are hurting most, but rather the locally-owned businesses, the ones with the most vested interest in the community.

In this week’s episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney, an urban planner at Gould Evans, is joined by Chuck Marohn and Kevin Klinkenberg to talk about the flexibility our cities and towns will need if many of our small businesses are to survive. Chuck is the founder and president of Strong Towns, and the regular cohost of Upzoned. Special guest Kevin Klinkenberg is an urban designer, writer, and the executive director of Midtown KC Now.

Abby, Chuck, and Kevin discuss the example set by Vilnius and other cities in giving small businesses the best chance to thrive in what promises to be a volatile six to 24 months. They also talk about the opportunity the crisis provides to test the impact of sacrificing some driving and parking to improve walkability—not to mention improved safety in a time of continued social distancing.

Then in the Downzone, Kevin has high praise for a book about a Russian aristocrat sentenced to house arrest in a hotel near the Kremlin—historical fiction Kevin describes as “wonderful, interesting, and surprising.” Chuck recommends a book about growth that was also recommended by Bill Gates. And Abby describes the renovation project that’s kept her from reading this last week.

Additional Show Notes