Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have an long history of delivering improvements to designated commercial and business areas. Property owners situated within these districts pay additional taxes or fees to fund public safety, sanitation, visitor service, branding and promotional efforts, and other activities; this designed to ensure the vitality and economic development of the core district area.

Amid a new wave of social and economic forces that have been impacting downtown center-cities over the past 10 years, BIDs have started to re-examine some of their traditional practices for addressing needs in their districts. To gain a better perspective on how BID leaders can remain responsive to shifts in their local environments, I asked Rena Masten Leddy, Vice President of Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA), to share her insights around six emerging trends that she believes will be front and center for BID leaders in the days ahead:

Homelessness: Leddy says- “There has always been a role for BIDs in dealing with homelessness issues. But what I’m increasingly seeing is greater involvement on their part in working with various agencies to make temporary or permanent housing available as opposed to simply monitoring panhandling and people on the streets.” Masten-Leddy goes on to say that collaborative efforts with service organizations and churches are driving this push to identify real solutions, rather than hoping the problem will simply go away. “The focus of the conversation now becomes about exploring long-term solutions versus ‘I just don’t want these people in my district.'”

Strategic Role With Complete Streets: Over the years the primary role of many BIDs has been the delivery of district services. Signs indicate, however, a shift in this trend as BIDs seek a higher level of strategic engagement in district activation efforts. This is been particularly true as many BIDs have embraced the “Complete Streets” movement, which involves efforts to ensure safe access for all comers, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders. Leddy cites the resurgent interest in trolleys as an example of momentum around this trend. “The nostalgia behind trolleys is now taking a back seat to their more practical function of serving as pedestrian transporters. This is just one example of where we’re seeing BIDs assume project lead responsibility versus leaving it up to city professionals.”

Spotlight On Millennials: Efforts to attract and retain millennials are on every BID leader’s mind these days. 77 million strong, millenials infuse optimism, social engagement and a spirit of creativity for a business district. “Recognizing this, BIDs are investing greater resources towards unique entertainment and lifestyle options that are highly prized by this demographic,” says Leddy.

Higher Emphasis On Programming: Leddy notes that a major emphasis for BIDs over the years has been on landscaping and beautifying public spaces. Now she’s seeing growing involvement among BIDs in program related activities in those very spaces that spark vibrancy. “BIDs are discovering that cultivating great downtowns not only involves maintenance but the development of programming which attracts a steady flow of foot traffic to these spaces.”

Fund Development: According to Leddy, BIDs are increasingly seeking alternative routes for raising supplementary funds to support district initiatives and projects. In many cases, BIDs are developing non-profits to pursue causes focused on homelessness, complete streets, and public space enhancements. “BIDs are really trying to figure out where these pockets of new funding will come from. Many are pursuing grants and sponsorship monies as they expand into different project niches.”

Social Equity: With housing and other livability costs soaring everywhere, social equity issues are a hot button among BID leaders of late. “Here at P.U.M.A. we encourage our clients to keep a very close eye on what’s happening in this space due to the groundswell of national conversation surrounding these issues. Because of this widespread dialogue, BID leaders should anticipate that it will likely become a key element of conversation in their districts.”