Making the Marginal Visible: Microenterprise and Urban Space in London
A research project in London is focused on the following question: Can the morphology ofcities, and the typology of urban buildings, help support grassroots economic development and the assimilation of new participants into the urban economy?
We have surveyed over 2000 buildings in three London districts that have large immigrant populations, gentrification, and an active mix of shops, street markets, warehouses, and new, community-based space for start-up businesses. These surveys are resulting in maps that show the distribution of different attributes of building types, uses and businesses. We have simultaneously conducted about 120 interviews with business owners and employees, concerning the advantages of locations, building transformations, and history of the business. Combining the maps with the interviews leads to understandings of how physicalfactors of building type and location interact with the development and success of very small businesses.
Our results show the following: Small businesses are established within a wide variety of building types. Most of these types allow subdivision that maintains the continuation of the public realm into the building. Synergies exist between nearby businesses of different sizes, types and status with respect togentrification. A strong hierarchy of streets, alleys and quasi-public space supports a variety of locations andrents. Although gentrification is not necessarily seen as negative by local business owners, it results inthe loss of “back-of-house” space that is useful to small vendors and local businesses.
Our findings shed light on the fine-grained dynamics of urban structure, and help re-connect physical urban design to urban policy.
The findings are intended to be useful to local organizations of merchants and micro-enterprises in theirefforts at self-advocacy; to local authorities which support and regulate business activity including microenterprise; and to investors and developers who want to include space for start-up businesses in theirprojects.