Throughout the past year, we’ve seen urban place management organizations step up in extraordinary ways, implementing innovative solutions to meet the ever-evolving challenges our communities face. As an industry, we’ve gained new appreciation for the value of staying connected through networks like IDA, which provide an unparalleled platform for learning and growth.
Elevating the best practices and combined expertise of our members is one of the most important aspects of IDA’s work. During our emergence from the last recession more than ten years ago, IDA’s network of diverse practitioners delivered an inspired approach for reinventing our urban places that drew on projects led by our peers around the world. As one example, my former employer, Chicago Loop Alliance, was the proud recipient of a Pinnacle Award for its groundbreaking approach to filling vacancies with public art, which helped pave the way for the rebirth of one of America’s most iconic downtowns. As a recognized best practice in placemaking, Pop-Up Art Loop served as a template that empowered other districts with the tools necessary to jumpstart similar programs in their own backyard. As the award recipient, our organization found equal value in observing how our peers adapted this approach, which opened up opportunities for us to strengthen our program.
Since I joined the IDA Downtown Achievement Awards Committee in 2015, we’ve held six award juries that have reviewed more than 400 entries. While no two juries are the same, there are a few things that have stood out to me about the awards process over the years. First, no project is too small to receive recognition. In fact, some of the most memorable projects have been the ones that tackle a specific aspect of a larger problem without needing to solve the problem itself. Second, innovation is key. In recognizing an idea as a best practice, our awards jury places a lot of emphasis on ensuring that awarded projects include elements that can inspire other IDA members. If you are planning to submit an entry, ask yourself: what makes your project unique and helps set it apart from others? Finally, view your application as a chance to tell your story. The best entries are those that are able to immerse our jury in your town or city, providing a narrative that clearly identifies the problem and describes the steps you took to arrive at a solution.
In this spirit of innovation and collaboration, I hope you will consider entering the IDA Downtown Achievement Awards this year. Now as before, our urban places are hungry for the kind of inspirational ideas IDA members have been delivering for decades. The best ideas start small—as a “what if” scribbled on a whiteboard, or lately, in the chat box on Zoom. Then they start to grow. A pop-up program becomes an annual tradition or an economic development initiative helps an underperforming street turn a corner. Every so often, an idea becomes so powerful it changes the way our industry responds to a shared challenge, setting a new global standard of excellence. That idea might be the one happening on your own block.