I just recently graduated from an emerging leaders fellowship on downtowns in New York City, with 27 other BIA executive directors and what an experience we had learning from each other. These 27 other individuals came from London, England, Sweden, around the United States and Canada, and there were various sizes of cities with a multitude of issues.
Being able to discuss everything “downtown” was an amazing experience for all of us as we have a very difficult job to try and describe to those outside the field. Most people do not know what a BIA or BID or BIZ does – how the office runs or how many organizations we touch, so being with a group of individuals who just “got it” was a new experience for all of us. One of the most important things we learned was just how similar downtown problems are – we are all facing transportation issues, parking issues, homeless issues; some have higher vacancy rates and some lower, but vacancy, either way, is a hot topic – how do we make our downtowns more livable and how do we densify in the most effective way for our downtowns.
This means as unique as our individual downtowns are internationally we are also very much exactly the same. Knowing we have similar challenges allowed us to really talk about the issues and see what other cities are doing, both what works and what does not work.
We also took away just how important public realm is for the downtown: we need “sticky” places for people to stay, such as parklets, and pocket parks, interesting art and play structures for all ages. All of these elements lend to a healthy and vibrant downtown core.
Knowing we were not the only city dealing with mental health and addiction issues was interesting as well – living with street issues every day makes us feel like we are fighting a battle alone. Knowing there is a network of other cities out there facing similar challenges allowed us to feel we have strength in numbers. Whenever an issue arises in our beautiful downtown, the DVBA now is part of a much greater network of professionals with unique ideas and experiences to share, which means downtown Victoria is now part of a much bigger global downtown network to learn and grow with.
Kerri Milton is the Executive Director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.
Originally published in the Downtown Victoria Magazine