Washington, DC developer lets neighborhood choose commercial tenant for small infill

From Smart Planet writer Tyler Falk: "It’s a simple question, 'What would you build in your city?', but a new Washington, D.C. startup thinks it could transform the traditional patterns of real-estate development.  Popularise acquires vacant properties and asks the local community to vote on what business should open in that location.  Whichever business get the most votes gets to open their store. The idea is to make real-estate development more about what the community wants, says co-founder Ben Miller: "'My goal, and I would love your help, is to pull the curtain back on the real estate industry in the same way Food, Inc. did for the agro-business and food industry. Because in many ways, the same financial engineering that transformed how we eat also drove similar changes in how we live, work, dine, and shop.  Basically, real estate development has become dominated by huge investment funds and public real estate companies — most of whom have more than a billion dollars in assets.  While this money brought a lot of benefits, these corporations just aren’t based in the neighborhoods they develop.  So they build cookie-cutter projects. It’s a lot easier to repeat a past success than to risk something new.'

"It’s a simple but fascinating idea that could captivate the imagination of the neighborhood and get the community invested in the decision-making process — a good thing for any new business joining the neighborhood.  And with 10 million vacant properties throughout U.S. cities, it seems like an idea that could spread and bring development that is valuable to communities."  Full article here.

Update: Readers Elizabeth Christoforetti and Eric Shaw pointed out that the idea of crowdsourcing urban improvements more generally (not just a single tenant) has resulted in resources such as Dew, as well as the "I Wish This Was" and "Neighborland" projects by Civic Center.