News from the Top

Rebuilding Districts for the Future


The impacts of inflation are being felt by us all. Whether supply chain is disrupting the cost of goods or the tight labor market is making it difficult for our businesses to find the workforce to recover, the challenges feel similar throughout North America. The recovery, however, for each of our downtowns and commercial neighborhoods is not universal and does not feel the same.

Over the course of the pandemic, we witnessed IDA member districts being affected differently. We generalized that single-use districts suffered the most compared to districts with robust residential populations either within the district or immediately adjacent. Those districts tended to be more resilient. As recovery ensues, additional differences are emerging. We are beginning to see where scale may play a role. Large cities, medium communities and small towns experience recovery in different ways. Increasingly it seems that major metros, which are often impeded by more significant commuting patterns, find themselves uniquely challenged.

I was struck by the recent writings from Bruce Katz’s, New Localism, which put federal transportation funding into context for creating the complete communities IDA members are striving to develop.  Insightfully Bruce notes, “Cities need to use federal infrastructure spending as a catalyst for additional public, private and civic investments in housing, commercial corridors, enterprises and other community defining properties and entities. Public-private partnerships need to accompany infrastructure investments, so that these broader projects can be designed, financed and delivered.”

Rebuilding our districts for the future is the challenge we face. Bruce aptly suggests what IDA has known for decades: we must look to leverage federal and local resources to fulfill a renewed vision for shaping great places. Like how city centers were revitalized in the late 20th century, we much re-envision our districts for the decades ahead. Place-based economic development that meets the new evolving needs of residents, workers and visitors alike must be the first tool in our box.  IDA members played a key role in the first renaissance of walkable urbanism – I believe we can do so again.