Downtowns deliver significant economic and community impacts across a region, despite being a relatively small share of a city’s overall geography.
At its annual conference last week in Baltimore the International Downtown Association (IDA) launched the IDA Vitality Index, a new online tool for benchmarking the vitality of downtowns across the U.S. through measuring three principles: economy, inclusion and vibrancy. The study, which currently includes 31 downtowns outside of our region, provides an opportunity for the Quad Cities to look at what we do well and what we could do better.
IDA’s annual conference is the premier event for urban place management professionals to discuss industry trends, share best practices and learn the latest tips of the trade – and the Quad Cities Chamber sent representatives to do just that. The team divided and conquered to make the most of learning opportunities in economic development, marketing, events, planning and design, public space management and operations, policy and advocacy, leadership development and organizational management.
Among numerous benefits, the IDA conference provided Chamber staff the opportunity to connect with other downtown professionals throughout the country and discuss potential solutions to common challenges, said Kyle Carter, Executive Director of Downtown Davenport Partnership (DDP), a division of the Chamber.
“We just issued an RFP for a strategic master plan for downtown Davenport, and I left energized and excited about our future after talking with consultants, vendors and downtown professionals,” Carter said.
DDP manages the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) in downtown Davenport, providing leadership and advocacy for downtown economic development, planning, cultural vitality, events, marketing and clean-and-safe initiatives. Downtown Davenport’s SSMID was the first one established in Iowa in 1977.
“We’ve been strategically redeveloping our downtowns for years,” Carter said. “It was enlightening to see how other communities have dealt with similar urban issues and also reaffirming that we’re doing a lot right.”
In addition to DDP, the Chamber manages the recently formed Downtown Bettendorf Organization (DBO).
“Downtown Bettendorf is in the middle of a major transition. Understanding the trends and having data to support our development needs is crucial to attracting investors and developers to downtown Bettendorf,” said Ryan Jantzi, Executive Director of DBO. “Encouraging development that is inclusive, celebrates our history, is walkable, affordable, addresses homelessness and supports education will be crucial to our economic vitality.”
Key trends Jantzi noted from Progressive Urban Management Associates Global Trends 2020 Report include:
- Increasing numbers of millennials are moving from top-tier cities to smaller markets in search of affordable living, quality of life and civic involvement.
- North America’s population is becoming younger (millennials and Generation Z) and older (baby boomers) and more culturally diverse; demographic trends continue to support downtown development.
- As downtowns strive to showcase unique places and experiences, understanding local context is critical to long-term success.
- Planning for economic, social and cultural diversity is imperative. To ensure long-term economic vitality, urban centers need to advance social equity by encouraging a variety of affordable and attainable housing and transit options, quality schools, holistic approaches to reducing homelessness, civic amenities that promote healthy lifestyles and policies that encourage equity.
In alignment with the Quad Cities’ Q2030 Regional Action Plan, the Chamber oversees a workgroup of representatives from downtown organizations throughout the region. The group, led by Carter, currently is working on a few joint projects, including a video to market to residents and visitors and a downtown housing study.
“We all do better when we all do better, is oh so true, and now we have data that supports it,” Jantzi said.
Go to quadcitieschamber.com/downtowns to learn more about the Chamber’s work to support vibrant downtowns in our region.