Governance, on every scale, is not set up to create great places. In fact, the current culture and structure of government and civic infrastructure may be the greatest obstacle (more than money, ideas, talent, infrastructure, etc.) to successful Placemaking.
Currently, no department or community organization is in charge of creating good places. Even when everyone is doing their job masterfully, great places generally fall outside of everyone’s mission and goals. In fact, in siloed departments the desired outcomes of mobility, economic development, safety, cultural development, tourism, etc. are inevitably in conflict and competition, frequently undermining the public realm that determines their ultimate success.
Placemaking has become a bit of a thing. It’s trendy. But do we really understand the importance of place? Could we refashion our governance and service-delivery around places? And how do you and why should you fund all this placemaking stuff anyway?
Place Improvement Districts are the next evolution of the Business Improvement District (BIDs) model. BIDs can work (for example – the Rundle Mall Management Authority), but have a number of fundamental issues:
- BIDs are a rate levy, essentially paid for by retail and commercial businesses (landlords typically pass on any costs to tenants or leases require tenants to pay)
- Whilst retail and commercial businesses pay the levy, and usually benefit in the short-term, they often lose in the long-term as rents rise as foot traffic rises. The businesses can afford to pay higher rents if they are making more money, but can be forced out if they cannot afford higher rents
- There is no responsibility or buy-in from other stakeholders. Residents or visitors don’t care as the idea is about business improvement (rather than place or community improvement)
- Non-business land uses, such as residential, which will be a growing component of city and town centres, don’t contribute in any way
- BIDs create a new organisation, usually with new costs and overheads, instead of working in and with existing organisations
- BIDs often promote placemaking and place activation activities, but they don’t enable others to act to make these actions sustainable in the long-term. They can be sustained as long as the funding stream continues, but if / when funding reduces, these activities slow down or stop. Combining the skills and experience of professionals with the passion, connections and knowledge of local businesses and residents could be a very effective model
- Creating great places is everyone’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of local businesses. The costs and responsibilities should therefore be shared
A place-led approach is all about creating thriving, connected and sustainable places. It helps to focus governments, businesses, landowners and residents on the importance of the place.
A place-led approach and placemaking are also critical for the long-term financial viability of local governments.
The Place Improvement District model is both a philosophy – that place is the key organising concept – and a funding model, which goes well beyond a tax (or rate levy), which could be an option, but is not the only option (as in a BID).
Implementing one or more of the following options could help fund place improvements:
- Empowering the community to act by working with a positive and proactive town team, which harnesses the knowledge, passion, experience and connections of local businesses, landowners and residents to improve the place
- Growing the local government’s revenue base through strategic place investment
- Hypothecating parking revenue so that some or all of the parking revenue derived from the place is spent on improving the place
- Place rate levy across all ratepayers (as all ratepayers will benefit)
- Make policies place-focussed (including those that require financial contributions to be made such as cash-in-lieu-of-car parking)
- Including Community Benefits provisions in the urban planning framework
- Encouraging appropriate redevelopment by making it clear and easy for prospective investors
The key decision is whether the local government would like to be service and expertise-led or place and citizen-led. Businesses, landowners and residents also need to take responsibility and take action.
None of these ideas are new, but we think combining them in to a Place Improvement District model can present a new way for local governments and communities to #makeithappen.
If you’d like to know more, email us at [email protected]