economic development

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Everyone Owns Boston’s New Jazz Cafe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 6:00pm in

This story was originally published by Next City

So many things could have gone wrong with the vacant storefront at the historic former Ferdinand Furniture store building in Boston’s predominantly-Black Roxbury neighborhood.

Historically, a lot has already gone wrong in the area. Redlining — the pattern of racial discrimination in lending — allowed homes, apartment buildings and commercial buildings in Roxbury to decline. Redlining also means small businesses in the area have long had trouble accessing loans or other investment capital to grow. Racial discrimination in city contracting locked out many Roxbury businesses from the reliable income of a City Hall contract. Racial discrimination in hiring, wage-setting and promotions held back many of the area’s working age adults in the job market — not to mention the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on Black communities.

The historic former Ferdinand Furniture store building. Credit: Maria Finkelmeier. Photo courtesy of Jazz Urbane Cafe

That pattern could have continued within the former Ferdinand Furniture storefront. The surrounding community could have been ignored or brought in to participate in endless community meetings to voice their dreams for the space, only to learn later it was all just for show and they were never taken seriously in the first place. A developer or real estate brokerage with zero ties to the community might have gone behind the community’s back to line up a tenant, based on whatever financial analysis determined to be the “highest and best use” for the space, community voices be damned.

The tenant coming in could have been a national restaurant chain, or a private equity-backed restaurant concept by a celebrity chef who’s never visited Roxbury before. Profits from the restaurant, generated in part out of the cultural cache of the location, might be sent thousands of miles away to a bank account held in an overseas tax haven.

But instead of continuing that pattern, the former Ferdinand Furniture storefront will soon open its doors as the brand new Jazz Urbane Cafe, a sit-down restaurant and performing arts space that will feature local musicians and other artists. It’s the kind of cultural and community gathering space that residents in the area have dreamed of for years. The all-Black Jazz Urbane founders have deep ties to Roxbury.

What makes this project unique is that the community didn’t just say it wants Jazz Urbane; it voted to put some of its own wealth at risk for the business. Through the Boston Ujima Project, members of the surrounding community recently voted to approve a six-figure investment to make the community itself a part-owner of Jazz Urbane Cafe. So the community will also receive a share of the wealth generated if it all works out — on top of gaining a cultural landmark restaurant and performance space to showcase its artists and provide jobs for some of its residents. For Nia Grace, born and raised in Roxbury and part of the Jazz Urbane founding team, it’s a powerful moment.

“I always think about things kind of being full circle,” Grace says. “I did not have the privilege and honor to know what it looked like when the building was active. It was always something I just wondered about. It needed more investment, more love and more care. I love being able to come home and nurture something that was such a big part of my childhood.”

A history of disinvestment

It’s not just about the outcome. The process of how the community got here matters even more.

Too often in neighborhoods like Roxbury, disinvestment goes beyond the mere lack of capital; there’s also a mutual distrust between the neighborhood and mainstream institutions. These neighborhoods don’t trust the public or private sector to work for their benefit. Mainstream public or private sector institutions also often don’t trust members of these communities to provide worthwhile ideas for development projects.

jazz bostonLocal artists on the Jazz Urban Records label, the cafe’s sister company. Credit: Jamie Kahn. Photo courtesy of Jazz Urbane Cafe

Some disinvested communities have turned to making outside developers negotiate community benefit agreements promising jobs, housing or other benefits to communities surrounding major projects. But the track record of those agreements has been spotty at best. One of the most heralded early examples, the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx, has yet to produce a single actual benefit and is now hanging in limbo as the project has completely stalled. After 10 years, the developers never successfully raised the needed funds to get started, and the city recently terminated the redevelopment contract with the developer group who signed the community benefit agreement.

Writing in Architects Newspaper about new city-backed development projects in Chicago’s historically disinvested neighborhoods, architectural critic Anjulie Rao says, “After decades of disinvestment instilled a sense of distrust, these neighborhoods don’t just need new developments — they need the city to lead reparative processes.”

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A reparative process starts with recognizing that history of disinvestment, acknowledging it was intentional on the part of the public and private sector players who perpetrated it, that it was tied largely to racism, and that it is a painful history — but also more than a painful history. The people who lived in and still live in these neighborhoods have joyful memories of these places, too, and there are elements that help keep those joyful memories alive — like the former Ferdinand Furniture store facade, which loomed large over the Dudley Square intersection for decades even after the store closed in the 1970s. It was vacant, yes, but it was and remains a beautiful building.

Like many other young Black children growing up in Boston, Grace remembers going shopping with her mother on Saturday mornings in Dudley Square: at department stores, street vendors lining the sidewalks, or A Nubian Notion, a landmark family-owned convenience store and boutique. The area was once known as Boston’s “other downtown.” Dudley Square had an elevated rail station until 1987, and still has one of the largest bus stations in the city where more than a dozen bus routes connect.

“After decades of disinvestment instilled a sense of distrust, these neighborhoods don’t just need new developments — they need the city to lead reparative processes.” Credit: Maria Finkelmeier. Photo courtesy of Jazz Urbane Cafe

“‘Going Down Dudley’ is what we used to call it,” Grace says. “[The Ferdinand Furniture building] was definitely a cornerstone of the neighborhood, but it looked shuttered.”

It hasn’t been a linear process to revitalize the former Ferdinand Furniture storefront, but there has been a common thread tying the pieces together: neighborhood, city and investors learning to trust each other as equal participants in the development process. The neighborhood had ideas and aspirations; the city took them seriously, and they inspired even a few outside investors to invest some of their dollars in line with those ideas.

Keeping the neighborhood involved

The redevelopment moved slowly, and it helped keep the neighborhood involved at every step. All the way back in 2006, then-Mayor Thomas Menino raised the idea of redeveloping Dudley Square, including the former Ferdinand Furniture building, according to Architects Newspaper.

The city already owned much of the property at the site, but the emerging designs led to the city acquiring two additional small buildings via eminent domain in 2011. The handful of small businesses didn’t like being displaced, but, as reported in the Bay State Banner, community-based organizations in the neighborhood supported the move even though they had their own painful memories of eminent domain being used to clear out large swaths of Black neighborhoods to clear a path for highways.

By 2015, the city had completed the new construction and the restoration of the historic facades at the site. According to general contractor Shawmut, 41 percent of construction workers for the project were Boston Residents and 44.9 percent were workers of color. The city moved its education department into the building, bringing hundreds of workers to the neighborhood daily.

The combined new and restored structure was renamed the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, after the city’s first Black City Council president. A smaller cafe and other tenants moved into first-floor spaces, paying below-market rents as required by the building’s federal New Markets Tax Credit financing. But the former Ferdinand Furniture storefront remained vacant.

“We’re not waiting for permission from traditional capital to do the things we’ve long wanted to do.” Credit: Maria Finkelmeier. Photo courtesy of Jazz Urbane Cafe

In the meantime, a group of residents from Roxbury and Boston’s other predominantly-Black neighborhoods Dorchester, Mattapan and Jamaica Plain began meeting regularly to talk about how to model a democratic economy, one that would respond to their needs. It came to be called the Boston Ujima Project — “ujima” being a Swahili word and one of the seven Kwanzaa principles, understood to mean “collective work and responsibility.”

Since its first general assembly in 2017, which Next City covered at the time, the Boston Ujima Project has spent much of its energy coming up with ways to telegraph to neighbors and to those outside their communities what they like in their neighborhoods, finding out what investments might be needed to maintain those things, and also determining what they would like to have in their neighborhoods in the future.

Privileged and credentialed technocrats might recognize all that as part of the work of urban planning. Ujima members have held neighborhood assemblies, citywide assemblies, and attended regular convenings held by other community organizing groups across the city to invite more residents of their communities to discuss, and ultimately vote on, investment plans for their neighborhoods.

A rendering of the inside of Jazz Urbane Cafe. Courtesy of Jazz Urbane Cafe

Sit-down restaurants and performing arts spaces have come up frequently on top of the Boston Ujima Project wishlist. Roxbury residents had long been calling for performance spaces and sit-down restaurants in their once-booming Nubian Square. So it was no surprise to anyone when the city finally put out an RFP in 2017 for the 7,800 square-foot former Ferdinand Furniture storefront, calling for “a wide range of businesses including a restaurant, a major performance space or a meeting space.”

Musician turned owner

It was a pleasant surprise that the city’s economic development agency leadership was among the first to reach out to Bill Banfield to encourage him to submit a proposal for the former Ferdinand Furniture storefront.

A Detroit native, Banfield first moved to Boston in the 1980s, landing a job teaching music at Madison Park High School, just a few blocks from Dudley Square. An accomplished jazz producer, composer and guitarist in his own right, Banfield eventually took a page out of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s book and borrowed some cash from his parents to start his own recording label.

Banfield’s work took him away from Boston for a while, but he eventually returned to take a professor position at Boston’s world-famous Berklee College of Music. Around that time, in the late 2000s, he started collaborating with Nia Grace to reinvigorate the local jazz performance scene in Boston. They started at Darryl’s, where Grace was still just a manager. She acquired the restaurant in 2018.

While Darryl’s is technically in Roxbury, it’s at the very northern edge of the neighborhood. Banfield dreamed of something bigger to draw people to the commercial heart of historic Black Boston, now known as Nubian Square. The city officially renamed the square in 2019, a tribute to the broader notion of Nubia, a region of the African continent, being symbolic of the area’s Black heritage.

“Darryl’s had certainly been an important place, and there were other places but we didn’t have the kind of mainstream venue that, say, Scullers represented for Cambridge,” Banfield says. “Boston really needed it.”

The city awarded the space to Banfield and the Jazz Urbane Cafe concept in 2018. It also set up the restaurant venue with a performance-based lease — its rent payments are a percentage of monthly revenue. It’s not uncommon for private landlords with storefront spaces to make such agreements with commercial tenants, but no one had ever heard of the city government doing it.

Credit: Jamie Kahn. Photo courtesy of Jazz Urbane Cafe

“It was really the city thinking innovatively and realizing if you want homegrown businesses to occupy prime commercial space, they would need that kind of assistance, on the lease and in some other regards, as well,” says Turahn Dorsey, the third member of the Jazz Urbane founding team. “They saw the possibilities from the very beginning.”

Another transplant from Detroit and a former student of Banfield, Dorsey is also no stranger to city government, nor to the Bolling Municipal Building. He worked there from 2014 to 2018 during his tenure as chief of education for the City of Boston.

The neighborhood wants in

But even after securing the space, Jazz Urbane still needs to raise startup capital to finance its buildout and working capital to open its doors. In the middle of this process, the pandemic hit in 2020, putting everything on hold temporarily. As they’ve re-started the search for startup capital, the three founders made sure to come back to one of the first places they initially went to find investors — the Boston Ujima Project.

In addition to planning out some of the investments they’d like to see in their neighborhoods, the Boston Ujima Project also manages a small pool of investment capital to actually make some of those investments. Some of the funds come from community members in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, but the bulk of the dollars come from high-net-worth individuals and philanthropic institutions elsewhere in Boston and beyond. The voting members of Ujima, however, have the final say in making investments, and Ujima limits its voting power to members who are Boston residents identifying as working class and/or as a person of color, or a working class and/or person of color who has been displaced from the city. This setup flips the usual dynamic of the folks with the most money having the most power over investment dollars.

In April, after listening to the Jazz Urbane Cafe founders make their pitch, asking questions and reviewing the business plan, Ujima voting members approved a $200,000 investment to take a 3.29 percent ownership stake in the business. Also known as an equity investment, it is riskier than making a loan, but the potential payoff can be much higher. It’s the first equity investment for the Boston Ujima Project, and while it’s just a small ownership stake, there are larger implications.

Usually, this kind of early-stage equity investment is only accessible to people who are already wealthy — for example, the investors on the popular Shark Tank television series. But by pooling investment capital from multiple sources as a fund, Boston Ujima Project found a way to bring working-class communities of color as investors into an early-stage equity investment. And the Jazz Urbane Cafe founders want to provide an example for others from Black communities in Boston to follow, whether it’s through Ujima or other new channels for not-so-wealthy individuals or individuals of color to make early-stage equity investments in local businesses.

“They were among the first we went to – in part because we knew that we wanted strong representation by investors of color in Jazz Urbane Cafe,” Dorsey says. “Certainly other people will be welcome to the house, but we’ve long wanted something for ourselves and we’re not waiting for permission from traditional capital to do the things we’ve long wanted to do.”

The post Everyone Owns Boston’s New Jazz Cafe appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

War in Ukraine highlights the enduring myths of science diplomacy.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 8:00pm in

Amongst other things, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the failure of western diplomacy to contain the outbreak of war in Europe. Over the past decades, one aspect of this diplomacy has involved the role of scientific and research relationships between Russia and the west, or ‘Science Diplomacy’. In this post, Doubravka Olšáková and Sam Robinson discuss how the … Continued

A new Pink Tide in Latin America?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/04/2022 - 12:20am in


Episode 52 of the Podcast Missão Desenvolvimento with Paulo Gala and Eduardo Crespo discussing the possible new Pink Tide in Latin America (in Portuguese).

State of Regions Dataset shows jobs below pre-pandemic level in over half of LGAs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/02/2022 - 9:30am in

During February, .id (informed decisions) released the State of the Regions Dataset for 2021. This national dataset, released annually, provides economic and employment data for EVERY Local Government Authority (LGA) in Australia. With the economic disruption over the last few years this dataset will be one of .id’s most significant releases, as local economies work towards recovery.

In this blog, Rob explores:

 Highlights from the 2021 State of the Regions Dataset

We received the State of the Regions Dataset from National Economics (NIEIR) earlier this month. It’s a BIG dataset, with plenty of stories to tell. In this short video I share the five key findings that have emerged from our analysis so far.

Want to see how your region’s economy performed in 2021? Click here to find out.

About the NIEIR State of the Regions Economic Dataset

What is the State of the Regions Economic Dataset?

Since 1998 National Economics (NIEIR) has prepared an annual State of the Regions report for the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) with the primary purpose of updating local councils on regional economic trends. In conjunction with the report NIEIR also produces a series of economic indicators which include comprehensive data series at the Local Government Area (LGA) level. We refer to this at the State of the Regions Economic Indicators.

The State of the Regions Economic Indicators is the country’s only economic and employment dataset that provides quarterly and annual economic and employment information at the LGA level. This means the impact of COVID-19 and other local economic changes can be clearly seen on each industry sector at the local level.

Why prepare economic data for Local Government Areas?

Reliable primary economic data sets exist only at the national, state and regional level at best. The only way to get a realistic measure of GRP, number of jobs and other economic indicators at the local area level is to undertake economic modelling. The most significant challenge with local area economic modelling is to ensure that the process reflects the unique economic characteristics of the local area, while still being consistent with State and National Accounts. A common mistake is to apply national and state-level propensities at the local level, which are no accurate as industries perform differently in different places.

This is why we have partnered with NIEIR, Australia’s industry leaders in the development and provision of robust economic modelling at the smallest credible geographic unit. Their approach builds the economic story from the ground up and is dedicated to producing quality information for local government and regional decision makers.

What’s included in the State of the Regions Economic Indicators?

The annual update of the State of the Regions Dataset includes:

What decisions does it help local government make?

The State of the Regions Dataset is intended for use in local economic development planning and project assessment and is collated from a wide variety of sources. Every year, 100s of councils across Australia use our location specific economic data to inform policy decisions, attract investment and secure grant money for essential community infrastructure.

The type of questions you can answer with these data are:

  • How is the economy performing?
  • How is the economy recovering from COVID-19?
  • How does recent performance compare to relevant benchmarks?
  • What is driving recent growth?
  • Which industries are driving recent growth?
  • Which industries are competitive and how is this changing?

Answers to these questions can be used to develop policy, seek grant funding, to support appropriate sectors of the local economy, attract investment and boost local jobs, minimising commuting time and growing the local economic base.

What are the benefits of using NIEIR’s State of the Region Dataset?

We established that this modelling was superior to any other models we evaluated for the following reasons:

How to get access to the 2021 State of the Regions Dataset?

The State of the Regions Dataset is available for every LGA in Australia. There are several ways to get access to the latest update.

They are:

1) (online economic profile)

The information is available at the LGA and/or regional level through .id’s online economic platform, See the latest 2021 State of the Regions Dataset in .id’s economic profiles.

2) State of Your Region Assessment (consulting report)

This is a value-added for clients that puts the State of the Regions Dataset in the hands of our economic experts. Our economic experts are engaged by councils and organisations across Australia to provide in-depth insights behind the data. Our experts draw on their knowledge of urban and regional economic development and years of experience working with decision makers across Australia. This information is used by councils to develop evidence based economic development strategies, investment attraction plans and support grant applications. Click here for more details.

3) State of the Regions Economic Indicators 2021 (Free)

Free economic comparisons of local government areas. The State of the Regions Economic Indicators is a set of headline economic measures for every Local Government Area (LGA) in Australia. The indicators provide a snapshot of each local economy at a point in time, showing how it contributes to the broader State economy and how it is performing in relation to other areas. Click here to get access to the State of the Regions Economic Indicators.

4) Contact us

To subscribe or arrange a demonstration at your council, please email