News from the Top

The Importance of Data


IDA and its membership believe deeply in the importance of data. It is the reason IDA research was initiated as a formal program in 2015 and continues to be central to our work as an organization, along with that of IDA members continuing to provide industry knowledge to benefit us all. 

Two important research projects emerged at our recent Annual Conference & Marketplace in Chicago last month. Center City Philadelphia released the Downtowns Rebound report outlining the recovery performance of the 26 largest U.S. downtowns. The report provided recovery data illustrating how workers, residents and visitors are actively returning downtown. Overall, the combined return of all three populations ranges from 69% of Q2 2019 levels in San Fransico, CA to 100% of Q2 2019 levels in Nashville, TN. But what is most relevant to all IDA members is that we now have data to more accurately depict the reality on the ground.  

Unlike broad-based commercial real estate information on an entire market area or regional estimations by universities, this report accurately sets the boundaries and reports downtown activity based on a true definition of the center city – downtown. We now have an authoritative source to counter the “doom loop” media narrative and a comparative tool to better advise local leaders on a recovery strategy. The top-line results depict a stronger recovery in virtually every downtown compared to stories in the media. The median visitor return to downtown outpaced the worker return at 81% and 65% respectively and although the resident population is the smallest segment, the median residential population stands at 111% of prepandemic levels.  

The second piece of research developed by Progressive Urban Management Associates is the 2023 Top 10 Global Trends report. This report continues to examine the changing demographics, lifestyles and disruptions that can impact the success of commercial districts in all cities. The report, updated every three years beginning in 2007, sets forth a guide for navigating the future based on prevailing trends. We all understand how the pandemic was a great accelerator of existing trends and this year’s update makes the case in a clear and concise manner. Through a variety of strategic recommendations, the overall emphasis of the report reaffirms the vulnerability of single sector downtowns and the necessity for reviving them as complete communities.” The Top 10 Global Trends report further emphasizes the importance of being data-driven, making obvious the importance of research like the Downtown Rebound study. 

I recommend all IDA members review these studies as they will enhance the understanding of how your district may actually be performing compared to how public discourse may be skewing the storyline. Together the findings serve as a great resource for strategically rebuilding your district and shaping external messaging that counters the ever-present “doom loop” narrative.  

Lastly, the Brookings Institution recently posted, “One size doesn’t fit all for understanding downtown recovery,” highlighting how a more global approach to estimating the recovery of a city center does not equally represent or speak to the issues of any one locale. This rebuttal analysis can prove useful should you need to address the recovery rankings produced by the University of Toronto School of Cities. In her work, Dr. Tracy Loh breaks down the methodology behind the index and illustrates the critical importance of locally defined data and analysis to clearly understand how the context of a place is essential to understanding its unique recovery profile. Today, the university’s ranking methodology continues to evolve, further reinforcing the importance of data but also the priority each IDA member needs to place on locally informed data like that in Downtown Rebound.  

Happy reading!