James Johnson-Piett

Principal & CEO

James Johnson-Piett

As founding Principal and CEO of Urbane Development, James Johnson-Piett is an evangelist for a new kind of community development that emphasizes community anchor businesses and institutions as agents of change – solving local problems and elevating the quality of life for underserved communities.

With over two decades of experience in various facets of economic and community development, James is responsible for the overall management of operations and strategic vision for Urbane, which works with historically disinvested communities through an integrated approach that includes research, consulting, and place-based investing. James has worked in 100+ communities across North America and the Caribbean, with over 1,500 small businesses, representing over 1.5 million SF of commercial and community facility space. James has helped raise over $225 million for small business and community development initiatives with the goal of promoting community wealth generation.

James spearheads Urbane’s place-based investment platform, which includes Flatbush Central, a $134M mixed-use development project featuring the redevelopment of the historic Flatbush Caton Market and 255 units of affordable housing in Brooklyn; and Arverne East, NYC’s first net-zero master plan development which will include 1350+ units of affordable housing and 275k SF of mixed-use space including a boutique hotel and brewery. In 2022, James led the establishment of the Urbane CARE Fund as part of the Boston Impact Initiative’s 11 city national fund-building cohort, which is a national network of emerging fund managers working to develop blended capital, place-based investment vehicles explicitly focused on racial and economic justice.

In addition, James catalyzed the creation of a neighborhood-based market intelligence practice – piloted in low- and moderate-income communities in Brooklyn - focused on Alternative Credit and Credit Proxies, Neighborhood Financial Health Impact Metrics, Micro-Entrepreneurship, and Criminal Justice Fines/Fees research and insights.  James and his team have provided feasibility and market intelligence for light manufacturing-, arts/culture anchored-, and mixed- use real estate concepts for government, non-profit, for-profit economic development and real estate development clients in many locales including: New York City; Philadelphia, Hartford, Sonoma County, CA; Detroit; Honolulu; and Lincoln, NE. 

In 2009, James designed the Green Grocer Project, a $55M revolving loan fund and comprehensive technical assistance program accelerating grocery development in Detroit; the program attracted the first chain supermarkets - Whole Foods and Meijer in Detroit in over 15 years, and was awarded the Silver Star Award from the International Economic Development Council as one of the top economic development programs in the US in 2016.

Currently, James serves as a board director of The Merchants Fund in Philadelphia and The Criterion Institute in Connecticut. James was named an Aspen Ideas Festival Fellow in 2019, 40 under 40 Rising Star by Hunter College Food Policy Center in 2017, one of the 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture by Brooklyn Magazine in Spring 2016, and recipient of the 2016 Reginald Butts Social Responsibility Award at the Brooklyn Honors sponsored by the YMCA. James is an alumnus of Swarthmore College and MIT’s Center for Real Estate, Professional Development Institute.