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Economy

The Connection Between Vibrant Neighborhoods and Economic Growth

A new study of high-growth firms in Greater Washington, D.C., highlights the role of community in a thriving economy.
Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland.
Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. Elvert Barnes/Flickr

The past decade or so has seen the rise of a new formula for urban economic growth and development. While having a solid business climate that attracts companies and jobs remains important, it is also necessary to cultivate a vibrant, exciting community with a wide diversity of talent. This is true not only in cities and urban centers—which have been attracting young people thanks to what Alan Ehrenhalt dubs the “great inversion”—but in the suburbs as well. In fact, a recent study of 84 suburban areas found that vibrant, dense, mixed-use suburban areas performed better and were preferred over lower-density, auto-dependent office parks.

A new study published in the journal The Professional Geographer, by Emil Malizia at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Yasuyuki Motoyama at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, takes a closer look at this connection between community vibrancy and economic growth in urban and suburban neighborhoods—this time looking at Census tracts across the greater Washington, D.C. region. Greater D.C. is an appropriate place to examine this connection for two reasons. On the one hand, D.C. is one of the nation’s leading knowledge economies. On the other, D.C. has a wide range of urban and suburban communities, with vibrant urban districts such as its redeveloped downtown, Dupont Circle, and U Street Corridor; dense, mixed-use transit-oriented suburbs such as Bethesda, Arlington, Alexandria, and Reston; and more traditional suburbs and edge cities such as Fairfax and Silver Spring.