Saturday, February 28, 2015

Having trouble getting buy-in from your stakeholders?

I'm too excited about the Chicago Business District Leadership Program to limit this to one post. We are now in Day 3 of our opening retreat so here goes....

A BDL participant sharing their vision stand
How do you succinctly and effectively find partners and champions to support you in your corridor revitalization efforts? For corridor managers, the key to success hinges on the answer to this question.
For most, a one-on-one conversation is critical to engaging and garnering support from key stakeholders. Think about it. Have you ever gotten a big grant without a one-on-one pitch to a funder? Have you ever convinced a business to come to your corridor without a one-on-one? My guess is no.

This afternoon the LISC Chicago Business Leadership program worked on this issue. We call them “Vision Stands”. What are those, you ask? At its most basic, a vision stand is a clear and compelling picture of the future you envision…in less than 2 min. Basically an elevator speech. And a darn good one.

Why is a succinct pitch so important? Because the truth is that attention span is short – most of the time  you lose your audience to their own thought processes long before you get to the so called important part of your pitch. Being able to engage is critical to getting others to enroll and provide support for your efforts.

So what makes for a good vision stand? In the BDL program, participants are each given 2 minutes to present their visions to the whole group. They are then provided feedback from one another on three key areas - presence, clarity and credibility. They are pushed to make sure that their vision inspires, and to do that, they need to make sure that they excel in those three key areas.
  • Presence refers to how you show up in front of the group. The speakers quality of being and connection with the group and people’s experience of the speaker who is up in front of them.
  • Clarity refers to an individual’s ability to explain their thoughts clearly and to leave the audience with an ability to summarize elements from their vision.
  • Credibility is the toughest of the three. This refers to the ability of the speaker to offer the audience a sense that they can do what they said they were going to do. Is the speaker believable and do they have the capacity to pull it off? Are they believable? Do they exude confidence. Does their body language communicate self confidence in their work? 
It's not just about the speaker. The exercise is as critical for those providing feedback as it is for the recipient. Offering constructive feedback is so important to effective leadership. Managing people, whether they are your staff or your partners, means having honest discussions about what is working and what isn't. So the exercise really goes both ways and helps all participants.

After the exercise, our facilitator Jose Acevedo shared with us research conducted by Albert Mehrabian from UCLA. What Mehrabian found was that three things contribute to how people perceive and feel about the speaker – whether they like or dislike the speaker and message. What I found fascinating is that people’s perception of you has very little to do with the content of what you say. In fact, only 7% of their feelings are associated with the actual words you say. 38% is related to voice dynamics and the WAY words are said.  And finally, 55% of people’s perception of you is related to your body language, specifically your facial expressions.
Receiving praise from participants after a Vision Stand

Understanding this is powerful, because it tells us about the importance of non-verbal communication in building credibility with our stakeholders. So step away from your email, and make or the call, or better yet, set up a one-on-one with a potential new partner and be prepared to share your vision. This is the first step in your ability to convince others to contribute to your efforts – whether that be a contribution of time (like attendance at meetings), money (contributions in the form of membership, or grants or city funding), or expertise.

Good luck!


Friday, February 27, 2015

LISC Chicago Business District Leadership Program tackles “Active Listening”

An "Active Listening" exercise during the LISC Chicago
Business District Leadership retreat
Two years of planning is finally realized! The first LISC Chicago Business District Leadership Retreat is well underway. This program is an outgrowth of the Coro Neighborhood Leadership Program in New York – now in its fifth year. These programs are truly groundbreaking - they seek to provide leadership and skills training for a cohort of twenty commercial district practitioners annually. This is not your typical training program folks. These individuals were competitively selected and use the six month training program to hone the skills that they need to make their work productive. Today we are tackling active listening. When our masterful facilitator, Jose Acevedo, asked the co-hort this morning “how many of you depend on people over whom you have no authority to be successful at your job?” every hand shot up. That is inherent in this work. The property owners, the business owners, the political leaders, the community leaders and the funders who are our partners are not staff. They are not people who are paid by us and whose performance review is based on how well they execute exactly what we want. How many of you have faced the challenge of a recalcitrant property owner – someone who seems reticent to participate in your commercial revitalization efforts – yet controls a critical and visible property in your district? Or the business owners who bristle at your efforts to improve the district and refuse to engage?

Jose made the powerful point that building relationships with those individuals begin by actively listening to them. But what really is “active listening”? This is the definition we are using here: “ATTENDING carefully to what another person says, means, intends and feels and RESPONDING in a way that lets them know they are heard and understood.” The key here is that active listening requires two steps. First, listening. And next, talking to demonstrate that you have an understanding of what the other person said. That simple, very generous act builds the foundation for a relationship based on mutual understanding.

So go ahead and active listen today! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Vibrant Streets

Washington DC has been taking big steps in a new direction to connect its residents who choose walkable, bikeable, transit-rich neighborhoods to services - a connection they dubbed Vibrant Streets.  Vibrant Streets started as a DC Office of Planning study that has now excitedly turned into something bigger and now includes The Vibrant Retail Streets Toolkit, a guide designed to take advantage of renewed interest in urban markets by retailers as well as growing districts.

The Vibrant Streets movement expanded after well attended conferences, interest from the industry, and a 2012 Downtown Merit Award from the International Downtown Association.

The toolkit, downloadable for free through ICSC's website, studied several successful national and international shopping districts to gather information for best practices. It comprises "the building blocks to vibrant streets" containing elements of a vibrant street along with explanation and relevancy.

It goes on to walk the reader through an eight step implementation process to create a vibrant retail street.  Many steps to complete, but this toolkit makes it simple and understandable.



The toolkit also spotlights innovative approaches around the country that spur vibrant retail markets like "creatively financing local heritage businesses" in Ithaca, NY, as well as highlights what goes into retailer decision making process and site selection.

We encourage BIDs and commercial districts to check out this valuable toolkit out if you haven't already!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Great signs, great streets...

 Courtesy of Lyn Falk and the National Main Street Center

Lyn Falk, President and Owner of Retailworks, Inc. shares her "Do's and Don'ts of Main Street Signage" on this great post by the National Main Street Center.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Nine hot trends that the retail real estate industry can expect in 2015

We really enjoyed Joel Groover's article in the most recent Shopping Centers Today covering nine "hot topics" he identified after surveying experts in the industry.  Commercial district managers take note! Could some of these trends make their way to your district?
  1. More Mobile Tech and E-Commerce - The continued rise of Internet users worldwide coincides with the ability to capture and use data in ways that improve overall performance. The article goes as far as to note the ability to track customer movement inside malls and stores to gather information - is this move overstepping privacy though?
  2. More Redevelopments of Well-Located Properties - A lot of capital investment is being leveraged against redevelopment of strategically located properties that have the investors cool as cucumbers because the demand for good real estate is so high.
  3. Continued Growth of Fast-Casual Dining - Sales among fast-casual dining establishments increased 11% from 2012 to 2013 and are expected to continue.  Baja Fresh, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Qdoba are all lumped into the lot of fast-casual as well as Shake Shack who's recent IPO sold 5 million shares. Fast-casual, as I see it is a step above fast-food, which Americans are slowly recanting from. But don't take our word for it, just take a look at what's been happening to McDonald's lately..."As sales dip, McDonald's is replacing Don Johnson as chief", NYTimes, 1/28/15. So here is our question for you...what is your mix of food offerings and is fast-casual dining part of your retail mix? If not...it probably should be. 
  4. More Subleasing of Retail Space - Basically a store or brand within a store or brand. This is expected to increase in 2015. Large-format retailers are turning to creative sublease solutions amid the trend toward downsizing.
  5. More Solar Arrays on Shopping Center Rooftops - Companies, mostly big box stores, are seeing solar as a way to turn underused land and rooftops into productive assets while also impressing environmentally friendly consumers.
  6. Healthier Employment and Consumer Spending - The article relates lowered energy, i.e. oil prices, to savings for employers and consumers who will spend the money saved on gas.  This equates to, among other things, more hiring by employers.
  7. More Same-Day Delivery - As Amazon has notably taken the charge toward same-day delivery, other retailers such as Macy's and Target have also rolled out same-day delivery for select markets of time-stricken consumers. But only 9% of consumers surveyed "cited same-day delivery as a top factor that would improve their online shopping." This means that while delivery remains important, people still want to go to stores to purchase. That's good news for downtown. 
  8. New Initiatives to Recapture Coveted Spaces - Like putting a peg in a hole, retailers are adjusting their size to fit into more appropriate and more coveted spaces as they "right-size" their portfolios. Some of the retailers taking space include Nordstrom Rack, Sprouts, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. Looks like luxury bargains and specialty food are taking advantage of these opportunities.
  9. More Retailer Spin off Concepts - Spin off concepts ideally allow established retailers to capture interest of new demographic groups and enter normally inaccessible markets. For example Space Ninety8, an Urban Outfitters concept store, opened in normally chain unfriendly Williamsburg, Brooklyn. COS by H&M spins off higher luxury while F21 Red is lower priced than it's spin off parent, Forever 21. Could some of these spin offs find their way to your district?
Credit: This post was developed in part an article in SCT (“Nine Hot Topics For 2015,” Jan. 2015). 

Mending Our Divided Cities

Have you ever been driving through a city on a road that clearly split the city in two?  Unfortunately this is a dilemma that has been written into the history books of American cities.  LA's Interstate-405, Austin's I-35, NOLA's Claiborne Expressway, Syracuse's I-81, New Haven's Route 34, St. Louis' I-70 just to name a few have all divided the cities they call home.

What are we doing as a nation, as citizens, urban planners, designers to mend these broken seams to our cities? Sometimes natural disasters provide opportunities to mend urban highways, as was the case with San Francisco's Embarcadero, or an economic downturn provides opportunities, like Route 99 in Portland.  

Some communities that face this challenge:
  • I-280, Newark, NJ - The Urban Essex Coalition is federally funded effort led by Together North Jersey, trying to use "complete streets" as a solution for I-280's splitting of the community.
  • I-5, Seattle International District - While there is no solution yet, our client, Seattle Chinatown International District, faces the challenge of connecting both sides of the interstate highway that bifurcates the traditionally Chinese portion of the district from the growing Vietnamese community. The underbelly of I-5 poses a challenge to connectivity that the community has tried to overcome by painting the piers that hold up the highway.
  • Image: Sunnysidepost.com
  • Sunnyside, Queens, NY - The up and coming neighborhood of Sunnyside is making progress to connect the northern district with the southern district which is severed by the elevated 7 subway.  Sunnyside BID is working to add plazas, seating, events with music, and farm stands (seen on right).
  • In New Orleans, the challenge was outlined in “Imagining Cities Without Highways" by Diana Lind. Claiborne Avenue was once a bustling corridor with grassy medians lined with trees. After the highway was built, its neighboring community of the Treme slid into decline. 
  • In St. Louis, I-70 is vastly underused and severs a resurgent downtown from the Mississippi River. Plans are in the works to create a park like platform over the highway, but local advocacy groups are calling for the highway to be replaced entirely by a boulevard. 
  • And finally in the Bronx, the Sheridan Expressway separates the South Bronx from the rest of NYC and discourages economic development.

So how do we seam together communities that have been torn apart by infrastructure, trains, roads, etc.?:
In Rotterdam, painted viaduct columns make for a
nicer pedestrian passageway
Greater connectivity of our cities provides greater mobilization, interaction, and livability, potentially leading to more community interaction, increased economic activity, and decreased disassociation.  

Proposal to sink and cap I70 East in Denver, CO 

Proposal to cap Autobahn A7
Further reading:




Friday, January 23, 2015

Utility Boxes Get an Artistic Upgrade

Scott Landfried is LOA's newest staff person, blog contributor, and graduate student in planning at Hunter College. 

You know those clunky gray metal boxes at intersections. They are a bit omnipresent around cities but easily looked past. These unwelcoming boxes of variable sizes and rectangular shapes sit at most intersections, along our streets, next to buildings, and in commercial corridors.  Wouldn't it be nice to see what a little creativity and initiative can do to turn bland into beautiful?  Many cities are doing just that.

Calgary, Canada (Image
& Artist: Sam Hester)
In a recent article I saw, Minneapolis is taking the initiative to put the paintbrush and power in the hands of its citizens.  The article weighs the pros and cons of paint versus vinyl wrapping and points out the reportedly difficult approval process.

Calgary, Canada
Streetscape artwork and improvement are valuable as node or landmarks, something that attracts and draws, something that becomes connected with the character of the district itself.  I can imagine two people arranging plans to meet to eat and shop saying something like, "Let's meet at the A to Z box" or "Meet me at the bright box on 16th." "Let's meet at that gray bland box on 9th," said no one, ever.

Toronto, Canada (Image: Kayla Rocca)
Check out our Pinterest account for other great utility boxes. While looking for good examples, I was reminded of my many years living in Austin.  I remembered seeing utility boxes painted (possibly unauthorized) while driving or biking the streets and enjoyed the brightness and creativity they offered.


Artist: Kristine Heycants
Image: City of Minneapolis
Here are some interesting points regarding utility box programs:
  • initiated in many cities as graffiti abatement programs,
  • boxes are typically painted by professional artists selected through application process,
  • not just any box can be painted but typically only utility boxes owned by the city,
  • typically painting of boxes can cost anywhere from $800-1800 and is covered by the city or community groups.

Other links and readings:
Calgary Utility Box Public Art Program
Boston's Paintbox Program
Glendale, CAs "Beyond the Box" Program
Rochester, NY - Painted Utility Boxes
Google image search: "painted utility boxes"