Since the mid 90’s, Washington, D.C. has been allowing commercially concentrated areas to band together to form Business Improvement Districts (B.I.Ds) throughout the city. These organizations charge a fee to their members in order to provide supplemental services. Typically, this includes improved street cleaning and safety, BID ambassadors to help visitors find their way around, holding events, marketing the neighborhood as a whole, helping to recruit businesses to fill vacant spaces, and creating a vision and planning priorities for the future of the neighborhood. It has proven to be a very successful method for small area planning and management in the District.
Perhaps the best example of this is the NoMa BID. Once an overlooked area that would be considered blighted by almost anyone, the BID has been instrumental in the revitalization of the neighborhood. This is evident anytime you visit, as new mixed-use buildings are constantly popping up. NoMa has also put forth an ambitious public space strategy, targeting areas where parks and plazas would benefit the community by facilitating connectivity and accessibility. Even more impressive is the level of community engagement that went into the process – not only surveying residents, but also engaging a local middle school in the design process for some of the parks.
If NoMa epitomizes the dark horse neighborhood success story, the Downtown D.C. and Golden Triangle BIDs symbolize just how powerful a catalyst these organizations can be. The mismanagement of Washington, D.C. during the late twentieth century is an inescapable truth. However, when the BID Bill of 96 passed, and these two BIDs were formed in D.C.’s Central Business District, the city’s fortunes began to change. This is because of their ability to provide the services that businesses need to be successful, and that the city was failing to provide. Powerful forces were already in play to help revitalize DC, but without these two BIDs, the city would be a different place today.
The Capitol Riverfront BID is another example of how valuable these organizations can be in the redevelopment process. The Navy Yard neighborhood, resting on the northern side of the Anacostia River, used to be typified as an industrial area. But, with industry declining, the BID capitalized on an opportunity to help create a mixed-use neighborhood connected to the waterfront. This is another area where it seems like new buildings and new businesses are opening all the time.
However, across all these cases, these BIDs have benefited from being in an exceptional location. This is not to take anything away from their accomplishments, but rather to pose a question.
Can BIDs be effective mechanisms of urban planning in neighborhoods that are not primed with redevelopment potential? Or does most of a BIDs success depend on factors not directly within its realm of influence?
Credits: Images by Chase Keenan. Data linked to sources.