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It feels trite to write that we are experiencing unprecedented times - but there is little other way to describe where we are. The COVID-19 outbreak is shaking society to its core. While we are all feeling the pandemic’s impacts, we each experience them differently: millions are out of work, while others adapt to working remotely. Many are figuring out how to homeschool their children, while others are not able to do so, lacking technology or working in essential industries. We are also seeing already profound racial and socioeconomic inequality exacerbated. As individuals, many of us in NYC know someone who is afflicted with COVID-19, without understanding the full impacts of what it means to be sick. Across the country, many are questioning why the economy even needs to be on pause, as the effects of COVID-19 have not reached other areas as quickly as has the economic devastation of the shutdown.

In the business community, the impacts are also wide-ranging, and for many, devastating. Retail operations and service businesses have been particularly hard hit; in NYC, we see this when we walk down a street that just a few weeks ago was packed with people. My business is still figuring out what the pandemic means for us. As the CEO and owner of Karp Strategies - a community economic development, urban planning, and real estate advisory firm - I wear two hats: I provide guidance to our clients and partners, and I own and run the business. I switch between these hats on a daily basis.

As a consultant, this means continuing to advise and support cities, developers, private companies, and non-profits on how to move their projects forward, and more often, how to do so with equity, safety, and business continuity at the fore. In real time, we are advising our clients and partners to participate in and support many of the same programs and practices that Karp Strategies is participating in as a small business.

As a CEO and business owner, it means taking care of the company, applying for any relevant support programs, and working on our business continuity plans.

I am just one member of the Karp Strategies team - all of whom also continue to wear these hats to different extents, and all of whom continue to show up for each other, for our clients, and for our partners. Especially in these strange times, Karp Strategies will continue to hold true to our mission of building stronger communities, thriving and inclusive economies, and amazing public realms. We will continue to share helpful resources with anyone who asks us. And, we will continue to apply our ethos of inclusive development to recovery and response efforts, advocating and doing all we can to ensure access to economic opportunity, and support for the City and communities as we work together to stay safe and healthy. We humbly offer our gratitude to the thousands of healthcare, transit, government, grocery, delivery, and other workers who ensure that the rest of us continue to receive critical services or do our jobs.

If there is anything that Karp Strategies or I personally can do to support you or your organization, please reach out. We are here in partnership, having worked either in house or as consultants during and after Hurricane Sandy, the recession, and other disasters of all scales. We are also here, quite simply, as friends, to listen in solidarity. We are standing by.

In partnership,


From March 9-11, 2020, Karp Strategies’ Rebecca Karp and Cheryl Lim attended the Interise 2020: Close the Gap conference, held in Boston, Massachusetts. The Interise 2020 conference brought together visionaries, practitioners, small businesses, and anyone who was interested in actively changing the model of economic development in America in order to close the wealth gap and end systematic inequality.

The conference featured “SolveIt” speakers, “Solvers”, like Cheryl McKissack Daniel, President & CEO of McKissack & McKissack, Jen Faigel, Executive Director of Commonwealth Kitchen, Jeremie Greer, Co-Founder of Liberation in a Generation, Karp Strategies’ very own CEO Rebecca Karp, and other dynamic speakers from around the country.

In his SolveIt Talk about the Liberation Economy, Jeremie Greer opened the conference with particularly poignant points about the oppression economy that still exists today; an economy that deprives people of color from wealth and opportunity, and depresses low income communities of color of the ability to thrive. In a panel discussion titled SolveIt: Inclusive Economy, Bob Rivers, Chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank, Wendy Guilies, President & CEO, Kauffman Foundation, Tracey Wiley, Director of the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, Darrell Byers, CEO, Interise, Gary Cunningham, President & CEO, Prosperity Now, and Dr. Nika White, Best Selling Author, discussed the importance of reframing the narrative where those who have access, power and privilege leverage their tools to create systematic change.

Jen Faigel, Executive Director of CommonWealth Kitchen, spoke candidly about the barriers small business owners in the food industry face, like access to an affordable licensed kitchen, access to capital, and access to a market to sell their products. In a panel discussion about Patient Capital Models for Diverse, Small-Scale Manufacturers, participants discussed the inherent bias language present in procurement processes, which prevents M/WBEs from entering on a level playing field.

Karp Strategies CEO Rebecca Karp presented a deeply personal talk that showcased two sides of her thinking: as an economic development practitioner, she spoke to opposition of growth, systemic racism, and lack of access to good data and engagement that she sees in the system that prevents many M/WBEs from reaching full participation, and offered tangible ideas toward addressing these challenges. As a small business owner herself, she spoke to how several of these challenges have shown up for her directly as she has grown her firm to success in New York City, often fighting against the tide, and with the support of key sponsors and champions.

A theme we heard across the conference is that for many communities, there are two distinct paths to success in America. You either have to gain access, or you are given access. Success should not depend on income, education level, where you were born, or the color of your skin. Yet too often, it is. The systems we, as a society, have created, are structured to prevent access, opportunity, and resources from those who need it the most. Disadvantaged communities in the United States have historically been left out of the picture, and while they continue their fight to gain access to success, we must reflect upon and strive to reframe these narratives.

As planners and policy professionals, we left the conference with these questions searing in our minds:

  • How can we utilize data to critically inform our processes?

  • How can we improve procurement processes to ensure that no inherent biases exist within them?

  • How can we reframe our understanding of pathways to success?

  • How can we restructure top-down processes to ensure increased inclusivity?

And as community economic development and real estate professionals at Karp Strategies, how do we use our power and voices as consultants to move this conversation forward? We look forward to continuing to explore these questions with our colleagues and through our practice.

Updated: Jan 21

A city’s downtown is its vital artery, providing access for the flow of people from one destination to another and serving diverse retail, cultural, and civic needs for residents, workers, and visitors. When you picture any given municipality from Portland, ME to Portland, OR, you’re likely picturing their downtown. Downtowns are the municipality’s welcome sign, the ubiquitous view with which they are inevitably associated – and they belong to everyone. Investment in a downtown has a lasting impact on the development of policies impacting the broader municipality and the formation of external perceptions and broader cultural narratives about that municipality.

From October 28-30, Karp Strategies’ Director Ali Sutherland-Brown attended the annual International Downtown Association (IDA) conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Ali joined over 900 place management professionals, thought leaders, and urban planners to participate in a variety of talks and tours focused on the theme of “Proudly Urban.” “The conference was a great reminder of why we do what we do and how to do it well,” affirmed Ali.

The IDA works with place management organizations and a global network of strategic partners to provide practitioners with the tools, information, and strategies they need to keep their city’s downtown relevant and competitive. While at the conference, Ali attended master talks on the relationship between mental health policies and commercial corridors grappling with how to help people experiencing homelessness, the politics, and practicality of walkability, and the competitive advantage to diversifying innovation districts.

John Snook’s discussion of the importance of homeless outreach and access to mental health services and substance use disorder treatment was a critical reminder that downtowns are not just sites of commercial transactions but also of social change. Snook is the Executive Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit whose work focuses on policy development to increase access to and decrease stigma around mental health treatment. When viewed through the lens of public health, we see the danger in criminalizing the behavior of the mentally ill, especially as it relates to downtowns, and can work more effectively towards compassionate care for those in need of treatment, thus making downtowns safer and more welcoming to all.

Ali also took an illuminating walking tour of the East Baltimore Redevelopment Initiative (EBRI). The tour offered an intimate view of the city’s work to stabilize and revitalize an 88-acre site in East Baltimore through a combination of economic, community, and human development strategies. The EBRI site now includes increased green space, inclusive and affordable housing options for residents, responsible relocation packages, investment in education programs and institutions for youth and adults, and job creation and training programs.

Andrea Batista Schlesinger, director of the Inclusive Cities practice at HR&A, reminded conference participants that “Economic development is a political act.” How can we take a holistic view of inclusive development, like that of the East Baltimore Redevelopment Project, and in so doing, focus on the totality of resources and services that residents and workers need to successfully thrive in place? Our team is constantly working to find new methods of identifying who are the given residents and workers of a particular neighborhood and what specific needs and opportunities impact their potential economic advancement. How can our work ensure that wealth develops and circulates locally? How can we elevate the unique dynamism of each neighborhood in which we work and avoid privileging a singular view of prosperity?

As we continue our work measuring the economic and workforce impact for municipalities and corporate clients operating within various urban markets, including a Downtown Revitalization Initiative for Baldwin, NY and last year’s community planning analysis for the Staten Island Skyway , our team will no doubt continue to refine our approach and strategies to ensure that the needs of hyperlocal and historic communities are included at all phases of stakeholder engagement, analysis, and policy development. Karp Strategies is thrilled to have attended our second IDA Annual Conference in a row and we look forward to strengthening relationships made through this important organization.

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