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Single-Crew Workplaces

A Single-Crew Workplace is one that is operable by only a single crew at any given time. If the day is long, like at the Rum and Bean at Mahogany Bay, there’s a morning & lunch crew of one person and an evening crew of one person, as the place is only 14’ x 24’. And of course they have people who can fill in in a pinch, kind of like a substitute teacher.
I know the narrative of the failure of small businesses, but those tend to be businesses starting at conventional ULI size standards, then trying to grow unwisely. Start impossibly small, and the dynamic is much different. It’s hard to start a bricks-and-mortar restaurant on a suburban outparcel burdened by normal parking requirements, etc. for less than a million dollars. Meanwhile, we are partners with our son Sam in his award-winning food cart in Portland and it cost us only $30,000 for him to get started. 1/30 of the conventional ULI standards.
If someone wants to play in the ULI world, I wish them luck. But if I’m an investor, I’m betting on Sam. As a matter of fact, in the rebuild of, I’m focusing more than ever on starting impossibly small being a huge key to sustaining things. Industrial scale is the enemy of keeping things going in a healthy way, long into an uncertain future. And if you think about it, almost every problem of urbanism is a problem of industrial scale: Too wide. Too fast. Too far. Too many. Too tall. Too loud, etc. The list is long. Grassroots scale is our friend on many counts, including the following:

Interesting Places

For a given square footage of commercial space in a neighborhood center, a couple large businesses are both physically boring, and boring on their offerings. Two 10,000 square foot businesses either side of one blog of a main street can only be so much and sell so much. Made up instead of 20 500 square foot Single-Crew Workplaces on that same block are far more interesting, and together, they might just sell everything you need on a daily basis.

Interesting People

As noted above, Single-Crew Workplaces allow far more people to get in the game. Sam would have never had a chance getting us to invest a million dollars, because we simply don’t have it. But when more people can play, like the people Lean Urbanism hopes to open doors for, and the people who are already playing in the Incremental Development Alliance, you don’t just have a more interesting physical environment and more interesting product offerings, but you also have a more diverse (therefore more interesting) cadre of proprietors.


Regulation at the scale of a single crew should be much lighter than regulations at the industrial scale. There is no way that Janna’s Food Farm in Rogersville, Alabama and the couple dozen hens who reside and lay there should be regulated like the industrial egg operation in the midwest which produces about 60% of the eggs in the US. The industrial operation can sicken tens or hundreds of thousands at once; Janna may never sicken anyone because she has far too few hens to have a hen pandemic. The regulators haven’t caught onto this yet, but they should, given how financially strapped cities are now. The more communities of Single-Crew Workplaces can be treated like a Pink Zone, the lower the burden is on the local regulators. Many small distributed is far more resilient than few centralized at industrial scale.


Transportation at the scale of many small distributed is correspondingly less burdened than industrial-scale and industrial-distance transportation. I’ve been following the 15-minute city discussion for several months. I posted a particularly incisive Guardian story here a few months ago that made a strong case for building tightly interlinked hyper-local economies that basically produce and provide most services within the 15-minute city. This flies in the face of industrial high doctrine that efficiencies can only be achieved at huge scale; the flip side is that huge scale creates huge fragility and low resilience. The new gold standard is the supply chain that exists entirely within the 15-minute city. This doesn’t yet work for many things, but can work for more than you might think if we work at it.

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