The racial equity reckoning in our communities over the past few years demanded that urban place management organizations (UPMOs) be more deliberate in our equity progress as organizations. We were called to better understand our racial and cultural dynamics and the longstanding consolidation and use of power within our urban environments. From city hall to private property, we were asked to explicitly get comfortable with our discomfort and make changes in every aspect of our work to move toward more equitable cities for all.
The Bold Placemaking Top Issues Council highlighted a few of these efforts in our recent brief. From Milwaukee’s efforts to reimagine Red Arrow Park to Richmond’s Monumental Conversations, UPMOs have the agility, resources and engagement approaches to help our downtowns and city centers become more inclusive places.
But there’s an inherent paradox in our work. Because even as we’ve gotten more comfortable with our discomfort, as UPMOs we are never comfortable with others’ discomfort. A warm, accepting welcome and hospitality are part of our DNA. Yet genuinely including people, especially those traditionally marginalized, may mean some people, who have historically held power, feel vulnerable.
This dynamic is particularly salient in our downtown safety conversations. Of course, crime increases are a serious issue in urban, suburban and rural areas alike. As UPMOs, we have numerous initiatives and partnerships dedicated to increasing downtown safety. Still, all too frequently, the current dialogue is less about informed personal risk and more about people’s perceptions of downtown lawlessness. Armchair doomsayers, who never come to experience downtown themselves, post sound-bite critiques that reinforce old tropes of “us vs. them” and “those people.”
Healing our communities requires connecting across differences, and the diversity of our urban places means they continue to be the very best places to make those connections. Of course, the unknown always raises anxieties, and this has been an anxious time. But it also amplifies the excitement of an experience. The promise of the unknown has long been one of downtown’s principal attractions—that you might see something exciting, meet someone new and share an experience you’ve never had.
As we adjust to downtown’s shifting realities and continue to work toward equity and recovery, I encourage you to include those who may not be using our downtowns and city centers in ways we have traditionally recognized as permissible. So much of the work we do is about making the downtown experience better, but the question we must ask is for whom.
To learn more about the 2022 Bold Placemaking Top Issues Council Report Brief, please visit IDA’s Publications page. The brief is free for IDA members.
The Placemaking, Operations & Security Summit is back in 2023 taking place in Minneapolis, MN from May 10-11. This summit will focus on the many ways practitioners successfully maintain and manage places. Learn more and register here.