What does The Value of Downtowns report tell us about today’s cities? (Part 1)
February 01, 2018
February 01, 2018
New IDA/Stantec research aims to measure how downtowns contribute to critical issues like social inclusion, vibrancy, and resilience
Last year, Stantec’s Urban Places jumped at the chance to work with the International Downtown Association (IDA) on its Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities report. I’ve long respected IDA’s work promoting downtowns of all sizes and supporting the partnerships that manage many of them. This project, however, got me excited for other reasons.
First, IDA member organizations are on the ground in more than 2,500 North American downtowns; no one knows more about what makes a downtown successful and why downtown success matters. Developers, mayors, residents, retailers, and advocates each bring an important perspective to the task of city building. The urban place-management groups in the IDA integrate all these perspectives—and more. Their in-the-trenches familiarity would enrich this study, helping determine which questions to ask and which yardsticks to use.
Second, IDA proposed to develop hard numbers on downtowns across multiple scales. Beyond nailing down the economic benefits of a strong downtown—itself a valuable contribution—IDA members also wanted to quantify downtowns’ contribution to critical issues like social inclusion, identity, vibrancy, and resilience. Developing objective data on these topics could make an enormous contribution to essential societal conversations.
IDA and Stantec’s Urban Places share a deep interest in strengthening existing downtowns and building new ones.
Third, IDA intended to create replicable metrics that anyone could use to measure the downtown value proposition. IDA and Stantec’s Urban Places share a deep interest in strengthening existing downtowns and building new ones, as many suburban communities are doing. My experience as a planner makes downtown value clear to me. But I can’t tell a mayor, a council, or a planning agency to invest money in downtown planning simply because my gut tells me it’s the smart thing to do.
Finally, IDA understood the need for a broadly representative sample—downtowns large and small, in regions with diverse economies, and in parts of the country with contrasting political and social perspectives. The downtowns chosen wouldn’t necessarily make headlines, but the study would show why the downtown story should be making headlines.
Most people know that downtowns have enjoyed a revival in recent years. The 13 downtowns in the study demonstrate just how valuable downtowns have become to their cities and regions:
The Value of Downtowns report represents the first product of a long-term partnership between Stantec’s Urban Places and IDA. We’ve already begun planning a 2019 report in which we’ll double the number of cities studied and further refine our methodology.
In the next part of this series we’ll explore what The Value of Downtowns tells us about the cities and regions of tomorrow.