Activation and Small Events

Leading Recovery Through Events & Programming

As we all continue to recover from the setbacks of the last few years, downtown economic development professionals and marketing experts have found unique ways to accelerate the recovery and shape the narrative by creating and promoting compelling new programs and events for their districts.

Mounting Successful Gallery Walks in Vacant Store Fronts 

In 2021, three vastly different-sized NYC BIDS (Columbus Avenue BID, Alliance for Downtown New York, and East Midtown Partnership) partnered with a new arts nonprofit to display art and create gallery walks in vacant storefronts. This presentation dives into their experiences and best practices on how to create a theme, put together a call for submissions to artists, recruit property owners and anticipate expenses and legal requirements.  

Guillermo Bernal Master Talk

Guillermo Bernal is the Executive Director of Fundación Placemaking Mexico and Board Member of PlacemakingX. With ten years of experience, he has worked with over 200 public spaces in Mexico, Latin America, and Spanish-speaking communities worldwide, focusing on creating participatory and sustainable communities.

Mpls Downtown reanimation: collective action

Downtowns across the country are changing. The stakes for the future of downtowns could not be higher, with the vitality of urban cores hinging on employees returning to their offices and patrons returning to restaurants, events and activities. The Mpls Downtown Council recognized the weight of the moment early and identified an opportunity in our community to lead with collective action.

Bringing People Back Downtown Through Marketing and Events

People are eating out, going to events, and traveling again… so why do some districts feel as alive as ever while other districts struggle to bring people back? In this presentation, leaders from districts of all sizes will share the placemaking, events and marketing strategies that have brought visitors, tourists, and even office workers back downtown. Learn why some audiences are reluctant to return, and the role districts can play in persuading them to fall in love with our districts again.

O2: Outdoor Office

Rosslyn, Virginia is a community of over 25,000 employees and 15,000 residents who work or live in the buildings that make up Arlington’s iconic skyline along the Potomac River. Dozens of large, top-tier companies like Nestle, Microsoft, Deloitte and Gartner call Rosslyn home, so when the pandemic hit, the Rosslyn BID quickly began re-envisioning the future of work in Rosslyn, not only for employees, but the Rosslyn residents that were now working from home.

Street Show Artists Unite for Justice

Street Show Artists Unite for Justice was a virtual expansion of our street performance program that produced live streaming shows from our regular slate of street performers, as well as specially recorded and edited “Street Show Gems” that were taped at quintessential locations throughout downtown Minneapolis. Following George Floyd’s killing, all artist payments were matched by Mpls DID contributions to social justice organizations selected by the participating artists.

al Fresco off Main and Downtown Dash

The City of Mesa and the Downtown Mesa Association (DMA), introduced a great way to “extend” patio dining for all of the restaurants in the downtown Mesa District—no matter the restaurant’s outside capacity. al Fresco off Main is a fenced off area with plenty of outdoor, distanced seating where people can bring food they ordered from any downtown Mesa restaurant or their brown bag meal to enjoy their refreshments in the middle of downtown.

Advancing Places: Pinnacle Award Spotlight

Winning an IDA Pinnacle Award is the highest level of recognition for urban place management professionals. We’ll walk through two programs pulling communities through the COVID-19 pandemic: the planning of a gift card program benefiting local businesses and a public space activation offering an outdoor office for flexibility in work and wellness. This webinar highlights The Cincy Card Connection and O2: Outdoor Office in Rosslyn, VA.

Advancing Places: Public Private Partnerships for Placemaking and Activations

Activating public space is crucial to bringing people back to the district as we move into recovery mode. Making this happen takes a lot of work developing the right partnerships to make your activations successful. Learn from two seasoned professionals how they approached activations during the pandemic and how they are moving into recovery mode which includes incorporating storefronts to benefit businesses more directly.

Advancing Places: Innovative Events

City builders have been working hard to turn lemons into lemonade for the past six months. As summer winds down, marketing and events professionals are steadfast in brainstorming new ideas to keep their communities healthy and engaged during the coming months. Join this webinar to discover how two practitioners are working to both re-imagine their premier annual events and think outside the box for brand new district-wide activations.

Advancing Places: The Future of Events

Producing events during a time of public health uncertainty can be challenging. This session explores how three organizations are revamping their events, enhancing their social media strategy and creating inviting spaces while limiting attendance. Speakers will discuss the future of events and the inconsistencies each of them are facing regarding the decisions to hold events. Join this webinar to learn from other experiences and engage in conversation with colleagues on this complex topic.

Downtown Activation and Public Art Initiative (DAPA)

The Downtown Activation and Public Art Initiative (DAPA) was created in 2012 to enliven Downtown Pittsburgh through a diverse and engaging use of public art, creative placemaking, and entrepreneurship. The initial goals of DAPA were to: Create thoughtful and innovative programming; Engage a diverse group of stakeholders; Develop event funding strategies; Include opportunities for local businesses to engage.


ACTIVATE is a series of pop-up celebrations of public art that take place in alleys and other underutilized public spaces in the Loop. ACTIVATE is free to the public, bringing Chicagoans from 74 unique zip codes to the Loop during times that are traditionally less busy.

Writing on the Walls

Writing on the Walls is an annual series of collaborative public art installations and events. At the inaugural event in March 2020, local, national and international artists simultaneously created two new landmarks in downtown Austin, including our city’s largest mural to date. This mural is located on the iconic Congress Avenue, 11 blocks south of the state capitol, and located at the gateway into downtown Austin.

Detroit Aglow

Each winter, the various departments within DDP work in tandem to light up Downtown Detroit – hence Detroit Aglow! The BIZ illuminates Downtown with seasonal lighting that enhances the physical characteristics of the Downtown parks and streets. The BIZ focuses on pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular gateways to make dark winter traveling brighter and safer. The DDP Parks team creates a season of programming centered around the tree lighting ceremony and the popular ice-skating rink.

2019 Holiday Placemaking Initiative

During the 2018 holiday season, we saw a competing town center in our region offering holiday event content that was distressingly similar to ours – Shopping! Dining! Skating! Santa! We quickly realized we needed to take steps to truly differentiate and improve on our downtown holiday experience to make our downtown THE holiday destination.

Travis Park Holiday Activation

The City of San Antonio partnered with The Rotary Club of San Antonio to bring an outdoor ice-skating rink to Travis Park for the 2019 holiday season to help establish the historic Travis Park as a downtown destination for visitors and locals while further promoting activation in public spaces. The City of San Antonio invited residents and visitors to celebrate the holidays at Travis Park with free, family friendly events.

Paw-Pup Dog Park

The Thelda Williams Paw-Pup Dog Park is a temporary activation in downtown Phoenix, created using a license agreement between the Downtown Phoenix Partnership and the City of Phoenix.

Alley Events & Activation

Downtown alleys—traditionally characterized as dirty and dark—present a unique opportunity for transforming unusual spaces into memorable public experiences. The Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) pursued a broad placemaking program to activate underutilized public spaces (such as alleys). Termed “ACTIVATE,” the initiative transforms iconic Loop alleys into pop-up urban experiences. The events feature art, music, and more in unique urban settings.

Sponsorships, Marketing and the Controlled Chaos of Events

This session is designed to aid districts in navigating the ins and outs of event sponsorships and marketing. Learn about knowing what types of events best suit your districts, when and what to market, as well as how to capitalize on sponsorship opportunities. Case studies include Pittsburgh’s “Picklesburg,” Wilmington’s hurricane recovery events and Hartford’s multitiered space activation.

Public Art and Authenticity: From Beauty to Community, from Pretty to Political

Many place management organizations that began with “clean and safe” (and viewed public art as merely a re-branding tool) are now becoming sophisticated curators of culture, and serving as a counterpoint to the homogenization that often grows from economic success. This panel explored the tools for nurturing genuine partnerships with cultural organizations from different communities in a way that empowers lesser-known artists, connects disparate communities and develops an authentic urban core.

Championing Iconic Downtown Infrastructure

Explore how BIDs and community organizations are initiating and advancing the next generation of imaginative park and transportation infrastructure projects that breakdown barriers and enhance mobility, create place, enhance livability and spur economic development for downtown. Featured projects include the Crystal City to Washington National Airport (CC2DCA) Intermodal Pedestrian Connection in Arlington, VA; Rail Park and Dilworth Park in Philadelphia; and the 11th Street Bridge Park in DC.

Passageways 2.0

Passageways 2.0 transforms a 6,200 square foot alleyway in the core of Downtown Chattanooga. City Thread, a series of simple steel tubes, creates a space that extends our attitude of adventure. By its geometry, the project possesses many potential settings including lounging, mini-stages, framing for art, concerts, markets, movie screenings, and more. The design is intended to allow casual users and those in charge of programming to discover different ways to utilize the alley.

DowntownDC’s District of Fashion Runway Show

The District of Fashion runway show seeks to align DC with industry-standard practices in fashion and highlight the unique talent located in the DC area. The project is designed to elevate and support the local retail and fashion industry. With high retail space prices and tepid support for the industry, this event sought to give the fashion and shopping retail industry a needed boost both for the perception of the industry and for consumers who spend money at brick and mortar retailers in DowntownDC.

Soda City Market

Columbia’s Soda City weekly street market started within the confines of a single block and now runs along the 1300-1500 blocks of Main Street and has a large economic impact. There are 5,000-7,000 visitors to Soda City Market on a regular Saturday and up to 10,000 on a special event day. Patrons can find farmers, artisans, and artists who all fall into one of three categories: Brain, Body, or Belly.

Downtown Block Party

The Downtown Block Party was developed as a celebration of Downtown Iowa City’s night economy as a unique differentiator from other commercial nodes in the region that could be an attractor to those of all ages looking for something different. The event relied on key partnerships to entertain attendees with activities including a sand volleyball court in the street, silent disco, dueling pianos, video game tournament, barn dancing by senior citizens, a drag show and main stage with music acts.

50th Annual Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts

This 3-day art festival takes place in the streets of Downtown a.k.a. the heart of Tempe. A .42-mile radius that spans from one of few Arizona reservoirs, Tempe Town Lake, to University Drive bordering the Arizona State University campus. One of our organization’s goal is to curate diverse and impactful experiences that cultivate community engagement, which is a major factor in why the Downtown Tempe BID produces the Tempe Festival of the Arts in-house.

Downtown London’s Free Comic Book Day

In 2015, Downtown London began to hear concerns about the amount of people lined up on the sidewalk and the limited space for people to safely participate in Free Comic Book Day. Many of the attendees are children, and most people dress up as characters from their favorite movie, book, or video game. For three successful years now, Downtown London closes Dundas Street and programs it each year with a street festival of comic artists, clubs and performers.

The Downtown Huntsville Tinsel Trail

Tinsel Trail is a free display of live Christmas trees in Downtown Huntsville’s Big Spring Park. Over 300 trees decorate Big Spring Park for the holiday season. Downtown Huntsville, Inc. purchases the trees and then sells them to local companies, community groups, and individuals who then decorate the trees to their own custom theme. The event is free to the public and open 24/7. Special activities such as family fun runs, musical performances and caroling occur throughout the event.

555 Monroe North Park

The City of Grand Rapids received a grant to purchase a riverfront surface parking lot and sought out Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s assistance with moving quickly to animate the space. Through the help of our citizen lead Alliance, the Business Association, local non-profits, 30+ volunteers and 40+ artists, we were able to activate the space with a quicker, cheaper approach using repurposed materials to create a new unique public space in our downtown that could be used year-round.

Downtown Durham Public Space Project

The Downtown Durham, Inc. Public Space Project is an activation project focused on retaining and supporting the creative and artistic cultures of Durham and upholding public spaces of convergence. The Public Space Project is a re-granting program that provides funding to individuals and organizations who bring temporary, creative, free of charge experiences to downtown Durham’s public spaces.


CollaborEAT is an annual event of CityBuild Denver, an initiative of the Downtown Denver Partnership. Each year, it transforms an outdoor public space into a dining experience for 250 CityBuilders. The event is designed to educate and inspire, while providing a space for attendees to engage in innovative thinking around the opportunities and challenges facing Denver. There is no other event in Denver like CollaborEAT, which combines tactical urbanism, education, networking and city building.


For the holiday season, Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID) presented DTLA//IRL (Downtown Los Angeles In Real Life) – an elaborate pop-up experience in the vacant retail spaces of a corner building on a prime retail corridor. Equal parts retail store, visitors’ center, event space, and art installation, the initiative showcased the vibrant culture, community, and commerce of DTLA

Downtown Topeka Events & Programming

Downtown Topeka, Inc. established a goal to make downtown the entertainment center of the community. To reach this objective Downtown Topeka, Inc. began creating events to attract a broad range of targeted demographics to rediscover and enjoy Topeka’s downtown. The goal was also to make a-majority-of the events Free to the public, this was accomplished through Business Improvement District funding and DTI sponsorship development.

Art of the State: Leveraging Local Culture and Creativity

This session will present a snapshot of case studies that engage makers, artists and other creatives in downtown promotions, placemaking and development projects. Great Downtowns of all sizes are identified by their cultural environment. We will explore how both large and small investments in arts and creativity can return dividends that multiply.

Downtown in December

In 2016, Downtown Greensboro, Inc. (DGI) was tasked with taking over the annual Festival of Lights, a hallmark holiday event for the community. With the goal of “lighting up downtown” throughout the holidays, DGI expanded holiday programming and created “Downtown in December,” a month-long celebration featuring the Festival of Lights, a holiday parade, carolers, Santa visits, an ice rink and a Santa-Con pub crawl.