Advocating for our downtowns is at the top of the hierarchy of place management pyramid first developed by Jim Yanchula from Downtown London, ON in 2007. And it has never been more important than today, as we emerge from the pandemic and as governments begin investing in recovery. The question I am asking myself is whether targets for funding our new government policies are over generalized and applicable to everyone everywhere, or do they target support and permit the necessary incentives to rebuild the economic engines of our communities we know the city centers and commercial neighborhoods managed by IDA members to be?
The federal government in Canada recently released budget plans to support recovery. While the budget included some key elements sought by the IDA Canada Leadership Group, it remained fairly broad with little detailed implementation or priority. IDA Canada’s commentary on the proposed federal 2021 budget highlights the areas of strength while remaining vigilant in a call to action for greater downtown priorities, specifically a great testament to the power of advocating both for the “wins” and the continuing re-emphasis on downtowns.
In the United States, communities are working to strategize how funding from the American Rescue Plan is best deployed locally. We previously shared a terrific piece by Bruce Katz discussing how investment decisions made today are key to city center survival in the years ahead. I hope your downtown organization is at the table advocating for investments in public space improvements, workforce development, small business training, housing, safety and transportation.
Just like with the first CARES act, gaining access to the recovery funding programs, and not allowing small independent companies in your district to miss their opportunity, will be critical. Just announced this week, for example, was the Restaurant Revitalization Fund ($28.6B) opening registration this Friday and accepting applications next Monday. This first phase dedicated to “priority groups” lasts just 21 days! Are your district restaurants aware of the release and prepared to apply? Most importantly, are your socially or economically disadvantaged restaurants who qualify for the priority group period ready? Application information is available on the Independent Restaurant Coalition and SBA websites. Supporting your restaurants is advocating for your district’s share of the funding before funds are exhausted.
Funding programs remain important; however, we cannot lose sight of ongoing government actions that shape our ability to make great places. Regulatory activities such as updating the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the “bible” for traffic engineers and city streets departments, is currently underway by The Federal Highway Administration. This manual impacts our daily lives by dictating street designs and rules that prioritize cars over people and make it difficult for cities and UPMOs to implement tactical urbanism efforts. It is the book that prohibits crosswalk painting and art on streets, and makes special events put out cones and barricades up to five blocks away notifying a car that a street is closed ahead. Written nearly 50 years ago, it encourages urban streets to function and be designed like suburban and rural highways. The comment period ends May 14,2021 and every district —or your city— should consider joining the efforts of NACTO which is the progressive group of city mobility officials calling for a fundamental overhaul of the manual rather than minor modifications. More information is available on their website. I hope you will join me as IDA also works to add our support to the effort.