by CCID 21 Nov 2018

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CCID attends International Downtown Association Conference in Texas

The Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) recently attended the International Downtown Association’s (IDA) 64th Annual Conference & Tradeshow, held in San Antonio, Texas, in the USA from 24 to 26 October 2018.

The IDA is the premier association of urban place managers who are shaping and activating dynamic downtown districts through business improvement districts (BIDs) as they are known in the USA and city improvement districts (CIDs) in South Africa. Representing the CCID at the conference attended by over 930 inspired leaders shaping downtowns around the globe were the CCID’s CEO, Tasso Evangelinos, and Social Development manager, Pat Eddy. The event was held under the theme “retropolitan” and, according to the IDA, host city San Antonio – celebrating its 300th anniversary – exemplifies the growing “retropolitan” movement happening internationally in CBDs that are preserving a rich and diverse cultural history while looking toward the future.

Says Tasso: “To derive great value from the conference, Pat and I divided the various sessions between ourselves. While there was much of value in all the sessions, the one that really stood out for me looked at calculating the value of downtowns to both the local economy and a city as a whole.

“In other words, it examined the value of having a prominent downtown and how this, in turn, benefits a city as a whole in terms of its reputation and attracting investment. To maintain their competitive advantage, in the US, downtowns are being measured on something called a Downtown Vitality Index.”

Tasso further explains that according to the Downtown Vitality Index, the five principles of a downtown’s value are:

  1. The economy. Downtowns make up a small share of their city’s land area but have substantial economic importance. They are employment centres powered by a diverse cross-section of industries.
  2. Inclusion. Great downtowns are inherently equitable because they enable a diverse range of users to access essential elements of urban life.
  3. Vibrancy. The density of downtowns – of spending, users, institutions, businesses, and knowledge – allows them to support critical services and infrastructure such as public parks, transportation services, affordable housing or retailers that can’t function as successfully elsewhere in the region.
  4. Identity. Combining community history and personal memory, a downtown’s cultural value plays a central role in preserving and promoting a region’s identity.
  5. Resilience: Because of the diversity and density of resources and services, downtowns and their inhabitants can better absorb economic, social, and environmental shocks and stresses that their surrounding cities and regions.

In terms of the Downtown Vitality Index, factors such as demographics, the knowledge economy and disruptive changes also come into play when it comes to measuring a vital CBD and answering the question: “What makes a downtown vital?”.

Commenting on her observations during the conference, Pat notes: “I enjoyed the beauty of San Antonio as a city and regard its downtown as an extremely well-run area. I immediately got a sense of order and safety from the numbers of police force members seen on the streets, despite there being no real evident need for their presence.

“Regarding social development, it was particularly encouraging to once again understand that our situation is not unique and that all cities are struggling with increasing numbers of homeless people living on their streets. A major shift from a few years ago, and one that has been clearly identified by all participants from across the various participating BIDS, is that you cannot deal with the challenges of people living on the streets through a harsh punitive approach of displacement, as it will never be successful and in the longer term will only make the situation worse.

“It was acknowledged that the focus needs to be firstly on recognising the trauma and profound loss of family that these individuals experienced, and then to focus on how one can assist in rebuilding their lives through additional resources.”

Pat adds that, during her trip, her visits to various facilities and services in the downtowns of San Antonio and neighbouring Austin left her extremely envious with the many options that were available to homeless people in these cities. Some of the insights gained by her from the conference and which could be considered for a South African context include:

  1. More collaboration and partnerships
  2. Exploring the “housing first” model
  3. The role of CIDs in advocating and lobbying when it comes to issues faced by streetpeople, and
  4. Acknowledging the root causes of homelessness.

Tasso concludes that: “Overall, the conference was as exciting and fruitful as we’ve come to expect from this annual event. This year’s insights demonstrated what’s possible when we use an integrated approach and work for the common good.”

Images as supplied and courtesy of (opening image), The Downtown Austin Alliance (The Community First Village for homeless individuals in Austin)