40. Economic Development (book review)

APA Journal . Winter 2001, Vol. 67, No. 1

Planners and economic development practitioners spend much of their time in limbo between rhe public and private domains. Their efficacy frequently depends upon rhe ability to understand and balance the interests of the community as a whole against those of the developer or businessperson. The current emphasis on public/ private partnerships as a necessary component of redevelopment planning and economic development efforts also highlights the need for planners to grasp the fundamentals of developing and operating commercial real estate.

These two books represent an excellent complement of practical information on those subjects. BIDs focuses on establishing, managing, and evaluating business development districts-one approach to sustai ning and revitalizing the commercial areas that surround businesses and the commercial property they occupy. The Office Development Handbook provides a truly comprehensive explanation of all phases of the office planning, development, and operating process. While both are essentially handbooks on their respective subjects, both also have woven within them insights into urban design, sustainable development and quality-of-life issues.

BIDs: Business ImprOtlement Districts offers a fine overview of what has become an increasingly popular and effective component of commercial revitalization. The author packs a lot into this book-clear definitions of BIDs, legal and market factors underlying their formation, how to organize and manage a district, an evaluation of BID accomplishments, criticism of BIDs, and a good seleccion of case studies. This should generate broad reader interest, ranging from property owners affected by a proposed district to downtown development groups seeking a template for their own BID. The pubLic policy and planning issues raised by the author offer plenty of opportunity for expanded academic research regarding the equity and distribution of costs and benefits, the responsiveness of BID boards to property owners, and related issues that have not garnered significant analytical inquiry.

While this work certainly succeeds as a how-to manual, much of the value Houstoun creates with the book is attributable to his ability to discuss BIDs within the context of commercial revitalization and downtown redevelopment. He recognizes that BIDs by themselves are not the entire answer to turning around a non-competitive downtown, and “To generate sustained private investment will require a great deal more than continued sidewalk cleaning” (p. 110). His experience and case studies, however, indicate that, “Most BIDs appear to have made significant progress coward turning areas that were poor to bad into places that are acceptable to good” (p. 110). The author’s background descriptions in the introductory chapter and his observations and evaluations of trends in Chapter 5 provide excellent insight into the economic, land use, and real estate market environments within which BIDs a re helping today’s downtowns compete. He contends that BIDs have evolved into very effective elements of commercial redevelopment strategies, notwithstanding some largely unfounded criticism, and we should get on with the task of establishing and improving them.

A criticism that some users of this book may raise is in the organization of the third and fourth chapters that are devoted to planning, organizing, and managing a BID. These two chapters form a primer for those most interested in setting up a district. They are loaded with information and practical advice. Their format and section headings, however, are confusing, with interspersed examples from various cities. This is unfortunate, because readers using this volume primarily as a handbook may refer directly to these chapters for reference. These same users will be rewarded, however, when they look to the case studies (chapter 6) that include a variety of district sizes and characteristics. Here they will also discover examples of bylaws, selvice agreements, and other sample forms and policies included in the extensive appendix.

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