Tuesday, September 13, 2016

IDA Atlanta: A Few Takeways

We came back from IDA Atlanta inspired with the exciting panels we had the opportunity to attend. For those who missed the conference (and the fun!) here are some key takeaways:

The rise of mid-tier cities – millennials are moving back to mid-tier cities attracted by real estate affordability and quality of life.  Some lessons learned:

  •       Yes, millennials are moving back but they want to see positive change if they are to stay. They not only want to see those cities improving, but they want to be part of the change. Cities willing to attract (and especially retain) this population need to provide avenues for active civic engagement (and not just events).
  •       Walkability and the availability of multiple transportation options are the main factors attracting residents and businesses downtown.
  •       Availability of retail (eating establishments as well as stores) within walking distance of work is an amenity increasingly valued by employees and employers alike. Thus, investing in downtown commercial corridors, making them walkable and vibrant, is a necessary economic development strategy for those cities willing to attract the young skilled labor force (of the not so distant future).

Vibrancy is an economic development engine, but in districts with an active nighttime activity it is fundamental to balance the needs of customers and nearby residents. Some lessons learned:

  •       After complaints from residents, Edmonton installed urinals and found that over 500 people used them every night. With that information in hand, local commercial district practitioners were able to successfully advocate for the installation of public restrooms. 
  •        Night transportation is a problem.  In many cities public transit stops service before restaurants and bars close, forcing people to rely on automobiles. In many nighttime areas, traffic becomes a problem, with all the taxis, ubers and lyfts parking around to pick up customers. To address this problem, Austin created designated places for taxis and car service companies with strong enforcement.
  •       The creation of a local Hospitality Business Association (or Committee) is a first step towards establishing better interactions between businesses and local communities. Having open meetings between the association and community members allows for constant communication and having issues addressed before they become a problem. 
  •       A successful example includes the creation of local Community Court programs that allow people who commit low-level misdemeanors to avoid a criminal record if they complete community service and pay a smaller fine. The service typically ranges from clean up to graffiti removal events. The Beach Area Community Court in Pacific Beach has had an acceptance rate of 88% (of offenders accepting to participate in the program) and reports a recidivism rate of less than 5%.

      Civic engagement is no longer an option -  it is a must in creating more authentic and inclusive revitalization initiatives. Some of the main challenges include avoiding narrow interests to hijack the public dialogue, including the voices of the typically missing groups (minorities), and maintaining public trust in the process and the players. Some ideas and tools to address these challenges include:

  •       One way to generate meaningful participation includes the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach by focusing (and valuing) on what is working in the district, analyzing why it is working and fostering more of it. The basic tenet of AI is that a district(or organization) will grow in whichever directions the people in the district focus their attention.
  •      One way to reach people that are typically absent from the discussion is to bring the questions (the process) where they are and at the times that they are there (i.e. engage local students and have them interview their elders; bring the project to a local coffee shop, or the farmers market, and ask only one or two questions to make sure more people participate).
Some interesting engagement tools include:
Liberating Structures is an engagement model that facilitates relational coordination and trust. It consists of microstructures that foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone. The website has a menu with 34 structures on how groups can organize interactions and work together in multiple ways.  

Neighborland is a platform that allows civic leaders to collaborate with local communities in an accessible and participatory way. It does that by integrating on-site and online community feedback within the project website and allowing for continual feedback and online discussions.

MetroQuest is a community engagement software designed to educate communities and collect informed input in a short period of time. Participants can see the impact of their choices in real time and learn alternatives and tradeoffs based on their own priorities.

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