Utilizing Business Improvement Districts for Growth and Equity

Since the recession, demand for real estate and businesses development in many downtowns is increasing.  This is being driven not only by an improving economy but by a shift in the market towards quality; a shift toward places with amenities, housing, transportation, and mixed-use development to serve workers and residents.  We're seeing these trends in many of our projects where downtown redevelopment is in demand.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are a method of supporting the growth and development of businesses and their surrounding places within downtowns. They provide services to business and property owners to improve the overall business and economic climate within the district. While the purpose of a BID is to facilitate economic growth, when growth of a downtown or neighborhood happens too fast it can create real concerns regarding gentrification, the displacement of existing residents and businesses.

In the category of “it’s a small world" it just so happens that the topic of BIDs and their impact on gentrification was the topic of a research project of a close family friend, Emma Engelman. Emma is a student at American University in Washington D.C. studying public policy. I've known Emma from the time she was an elementary school student living in the neighborhood next to mine in Scarborough Maine and the best friend of my daughter. I was thrilled to learn of her research and interest in community and economic development and am honored to highlight her work here. It is great to see a new generation of bright, young students interested in the well-being of our communities.

For her work, Emma utilized a case study approach to examine the question:  “Can the D.C. government utilize the economic growth potential of BIDs in lower income areas while avoiding the negative effects of gentrification?”  What she found was: 

  • BID establishment has an overall positive effect on the safety, unemployment rates, and crime rates.
  • BIDS can be utilized to help the existing communities with economic growth by helping local businesses and to prevent the displacement of minority and low income people through the process of gentrification.

Achieving economic growth with economic equity can be challenging and economic developers must not shy away from this challenge.  In the end communities will be more diverse and therefore resilient.  BIDs present a tool when combined with the right policies and practices can better achieve this better achieve this balance. 

Emma can be reached at: ee0721a@student.american.edu or on LinkedIn.

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