Principal’s Letter – Dec 2012

Happy holidays! On behalf of the team at Urbane Development, we wish you a healthy and prosperous holiday season.

It’s been a while since I’ve reached out on behalf of the firm, but I think the holidays are the perfect time to share good tidings.

I’m a Local Economy Fellow!

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the leading national organization promoting “localism” through connecting local economy leaders and funders, has selected me to represent the New York metropolitan region as a 2013-14 Local Economy Fellow. The BALLE Local Economy Fellowship, the only fellowship of its kind in North America, is dedicated solely to advancing the local economies movement.

According to BALLE, “The fellows convene communities of businesses around a shared vision. Fellows are leaders at the forefront of rebuilding communities from the ground up through creative economic development strategies that enhance the staying power of locally owned businesses, and through emerging sustainable innovations in manufacturing, finance and food. BALLE Local Economy Fellows participate in an intense, close-knit and rigorous 18-month leadership immersion program that strengthens their capacity for transformative change in their communities.”

The new group of BALLE Local Economy Fellows were selected through referrals and support from some of the most respected and well-known organizations in the field: NoVo Foundation, Ashoka, New World Foundation, Rising Tide Capital, Rutgers Social Innovation Institute, Social Venture Network and Surdna Foundation. The sixteen new Fellows are localizing food systems, reversing long term unemployment trends, and transitioning the workforce toward new economy jobs in communities from New York City to Oakland to Appalachia.

I, along with the team at Urbane, are humbled by the opportunity to engage a world-class collection of local economy practitioners who will counsel, critique, and motivate me to take Urbane to the next level. The formation of a community of thought leaders at the forefront of local business and community development is a very exciting endeavor to be a part of.

BALLE 2013-14 Local Economy Fellowship Website | James Johnson-Piett Fellowship Page

New Addition

Since we’ve been neck deep in our work with underserved communities throughout the North America, you may not have learned that we’ve had the privilege to add Erika Lesser to the Urbane team as Director of Operations. Erika is a pioneer in the food movement, growing Slow Food USA as its Executive Director (2004-2009) from its infancy to its current place as a touchstone for all things gastronomy and food sustainability. She has added her vision and expertise to Urbane over the past year and a half, and we hope 2013 is truly her coming out party as Urbane continues to grow!

Learn more about Erika…


2012 In Review

Over the past year, Urbane has worked to live up to our moniker by developing sophisticated, elegant solutions in a myriad of community development projects. From partnering with an NYC-based housing developer to re-imagine a blighted commercial corridor in the East New York section of Brooklyn to evaluating healthy retail programs in New Haven, Niagara Falls, and Harlem, we’ve worked to help strengthen community assets in underserved markets and advance a more holistic engagement strategy that generates and sustains wealth from the ground-up.

Our latest project tackles a classic urban development pressure – gentrification – in the Lower East Side of NYC commingled with the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. After 30+ years, the Pathmark supermarket in the Two Bridges section of LES will close to give way to luxury residential condos. The loss of 45,000 square feet of affordable food retail will have a profound impact on the Two Bridges community, particularly seniors and low-income residents. Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, a local housing developer and sponsor, is leading the effort to address the loss of the supermarket in the community, as well as foster new opportunities for local economic growth and small business development to fill the vacuum.

Photo Courtesy of

Step 1 was to engage Urbane to assist in developing short- and long-term strategies that builds resiliency within the Two Bridges foodshed. We are currently engaged in a three-pronged community food assessment that targets: a) insights to food shopping and consumption patterns of Lower East Side residents, b) an analysis of the food retail infrastructure within Two Bridges, including developing a price index of market basket items, and c) a survey of local food retailers on their operations, perceived challenges and strengths, and ability to fill the void left by the Pathmark closure. A comprehensive Two Bridges neighborhood grocery guide will be developed and disseminated in print and web form in Winter 2013.

Urbane Makeover

After 4+ years, we FINALLY got a makeover… digitally speaking.

New Logo

New Website

Revamped Blog : You’re on it, by the way…

…and quarterly newsletters and updated Vimeo and YouTube channels are in the works.

Please visit our new website, blog, and other social media channels to engage with us and learn more about our approach, team, projects, and services.

You’ll be hearing a lot more from us in 2013. Until then, we wish you the very best for the holidays and new year!


All the best,

James Johnson-Piett

Principal and Chief Executive Officer

Urbane Development LLC