Placemaking Experts Converge on San Francisco

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International Downtown Association Members Discussing Best Practices & Urban Challenges Worldwide

“San Francisco is able to provide lessons and models to our visitors on some of our City’s important urban projects and programs made possible through innovative public-private partnerships,” said Mayor Ed Lee

Innovative retail? Check. Creative placemaking? Check. Collaboration, promotion and beautification? Check.

Nearly a thousand members of the International Downtown Association are converging in San Francisco September 30—October 2, 2015 to explore the city as an urban laboratory and to share ideas from around the world that improve urban areas.

The 2015 Bridge the Gap conference brings together experts in the fields of placemaking and urban district management to discuss the challenges and successes facing downtowns and urban areas. Master talk speakers include industry experts from Kaiser Permanente, Burning Man, Project for Public Spaces, SPUR, Gehl Studio, MIG and more.

“San Francisco is proud to host the 2015 IDA conference that brings together national and international experts in the fields of public place management, urban revitalization, local economic development and community building – all of which unites and creates a diverse, vibrant and thriving community,” said Mayor Ed Lee. “San Francisco is able to provide lessons and models to our visitors on some of our City’s important urban projects and programs made possible through innovative public-private partnerships.”

IDA’s members have a proven track record of creating collaborative public-private partnerships to tackle weighty issues. More than 2,500 downtown management districts, often called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) or Community Benefit Districts (CBDs), such as the Union Square BID in San Francisco, exist in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

  •     The top ten cities in the U.S. receive direct private investment of $400 million a year through BIDs.
  •     More than 439 BIDs or similar improvement organizations exist in those top 10 cities.
  •     The top five cities in Canada receive direct private investment of $73 million a year through BIAs (Business Improvement Areas).

“Our members bring new ideas from cities all over the world to support their downtowns and make them vibrant and healthy places,” said David Downey, President and CEO of the International Downtown Association. “This is the first time IDA has held its conference in San Francisco, and we are looking forward to exploring how the City of San Francisco and its place management organizations are addressing urban challenges with new and innovative ideas.”

The 2015 Bridge the Gap conference is co-hosted by the International Downtown Association, the Union Square BID, and the City and County of San Francisco. The IDA annual conference is the primary educational and networking opportunity that brings members together in one place to investigate solutions to urban issues such as:

  •     maintaining authenticity and character in urban centers;
  •     activating public spaces;
  •     attracting diverse retail tenants;
  •     encouraging and supporting public art and culture;
  •     safety, cleanliness and beautification; and
  •     branding and marketing.

Dozens of break-out sessions, walking tours, expert master talks and events will delve into these issues and many more. View the full conference schedule here.

“We welcome the 2015 IDA conference and its guests to San Francisco. We are looking forward to sharing best practices between our 14 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) with public place management organizations from around the world during the IDA conference,” said Todd Rufo, Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.”

Urban management districts were formed in the 1970s in Canada in response to depleting resources, struggling downtowns and car-based development that sent residents fleeing to the suburbs. Over the last 40+ years, these nonprofit organizations have leveraged private investment and become an effective, efficient and lauded solution to the urban issues facing cities, downtowns and main streets today. In San Francisco, the first urban place management district, the Union Square BID, was formed in 1999 under a state law. Following the passage of a local ordinance in 2004 and the establishment of a new technical assistance program at the City & County of San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, many more districts were formed. Today, 14 Business Improvement and Community Benefit Districts are operating in San Francisco’s downtown areas and within many distinct neighborhood commercial districts.

“We are excited to showcase how Union Square, already an internationally renowned shopping district, continues to shine with innovative thinking in the retail sector, bringing together technology and retail marketplaces to attract customers and new businesses to fuel economic growth,” said Karin Flood, executive director, Union Square BID. “Our work to enhance and promote the Union Square neighborhood helps to ensure that it remains a world-class destination.”

The Union Square BID has initiated creative public space improvements such as Winter Walk SF and the Powell St. Promenade to sustain a lively and active district that is one of the top shopping, business and civic gathering places in the nation. Union Square BID programs include safety ambassadors, cleaning and beautification, advocacy and marketing efforts created to activate the neighborhood and attract shoppers, residents and employees. At the conference, IDA members will learn more about innovative programming such as this through break-out sessions on flexible streets, creative placemaking, and leveraging the arts to re-energize downtowns.

About the International Downtown Association
The International Downtown Association is a world leader and champion for vital and livable urban centers. Through its network of diverse practitioners, its rich body of knowledge, and its unique capacity to nurture community-building partnerships, IDA provides tools, intelligence and strategies for creating healthy and dynamic centers that anchor the well-being of towns, cities and regions around the world. Visit for more information, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About the Union Square BID
The Union Square Business Improvement District is made up of a vibrant and diverse 27-block community surrounding Union Square Park in San Francisco. Union Square is known for its eclectic mix of world-class fashion, dining, hospitality and entertainment. The Union Square BID seeks to improve the overall quality of life for residents and visitors to the area through maintenance and public safety measures, marketing, advocacy, beautification and streetscapes programs. For more information please visit us at or find us on Facebook or twitter.

About the Office Economic and Workforce Development
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) supports the ongoing economic vitality of San Francisco. OEWD provides citywide leadership for neighborhood commercial corridor revitalization, business attraction and retention, international business development, real estate development and workforce development. Through OEWD’s Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative, Community Benefit Districts are public and private partnerships under Mayor Lee’s Shared Prosperity Plan to ensure San Francisco’s commercial corridors continue to thrive and remain vibrant for people to enjoy. For more information please visit us at


Media Contact on Site:
Rachel L. Davis, Director of Communications and Marketing
International Downtown Association
Mobile: 202-510-1450

Union Square BID Media Contact:
Peter Bartelme

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Rachel L. Davis

Peter Bartelme
For Union Square BID
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