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Congratulations to the International Downtown Association (IDA, @IntlDwtnAssoc) on the successful start to the 59th Annual IDA International Congress in New York City (#IDANYC)! The congress continues through Wednesday, October 9th.

Twitter has been an essential tool for organizing the collective wisdom of attendees and connecting them to each other, so we’ve included links to as many Twitter handles and hashtags as possible to allow others to participate in the conversation. A few notes from Principal Celeste Frye’s (@CelesteFrye11) day there on Monday, which she also tweeted through @PublicWorksIQ:

Larisa Ortiz of Larisa Ortiz Associates/The Commercial District Advisor (@CDAdvisor), friend and partner of Public Works Partners, presented on retail attraction strategies. Larisa is the expert at micro- and macro- retail strategies for shopping areas and business improvement districts in towns and cities nationwide.

Urban development guru Daniel Biederman (Bryant Park Corporation, 34th Street Partnership, Chelsea Partnership, and Biederman Redevelopment Ventures) gave his unique perspective on creating and maintaining vital urban spaces. In particular, he defined great urban spaces as ones where: at least half of the visitors are women; occupants can personalize it in the moment by rearranging furniture at will; flowers dominate hard edges; programming is constant, though at a variety of scales; and sponsors are willing to pay premiums in order to associate with the space.

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After Work Music with @EverestCale Now with @Pepsi

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What is NOT there: modernist anything, fixed benches, paving or gravel that interfere high heels (see above!), and trucks as service vehicles. He pushed for investment in “small” design (signage, chairs, plantings, and trashcans) and less investment in “big” design (high-concept carousels, granite anything, and fountains).  Biederman did not address operating costs of his approach; many cities invest in hardscapes because they are seen as easier to maintain than plantings and flowers that must be changed out, for instance. But perhaps Biederman is right that a human-scale urban space attracts more people and creates a virtuous cycle of foot traffic, public activity, and commerce.

Downtown leaders from Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Baltimore spoke about the role of economic incentives in revitalizing their neighborhoods.  All three cities are turning their central business districts around after years of population loss by, in part, relying on a mix of incentives to entice developers to convert old buildings to condos and the types of commercial space demanded by retailers today. Some might argue that people were ready to return to downtowns even without incentives. (And it would be interesting to compare these three cities with similar cities that did not employ incentives as extensively.) That said, St. Louis made perhaps the most compelling case for the effectiveness of incentives: Missouri statewide Historic Tax Credits were credited with enabling sustained development in and around the core downtown, which in turn sparked an urban renaissance that has impacted urban policy, such as bike and pedestrian improvements.

Decentralized workshop locations and meals were, it turned out, the result of a late change of venue for the conference from Canada to NYC.  Kudos to the NYC BID Managers Association and Department of Small Business Services, host sponsors, for pulling off an exciting and coherent program in multiple small venues around the city.  Attendees miss the networking opportunities of a unified space but are enjoying the opportunity to get out and experience NYC, even in the rain.