Day 2 | What Can be Done on the Ground to Recover our Downtowns?

Day 2 | What Can be Done on the Ground to Recover our Downtowns?

History has shown us that cities are remarkably resilient, even when faced with sudden or chronic challenges. What tangible ways can civic leaders, policymakers and entrepreneurs bring our downtowns not only back, but catapult them to a new dynamic future?

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe [00:00:04] Ok, folks, we’re going to carry on now, we got one more session, homestretch. And saving the best for last, I’m sure. And this is going to be about what’s actually happening on the ground in terms of public space and animation and different kinds of interventions. And you’re going to hear from practitioners who are doing it in very different ways, in different places. And I feel very fortunate that my friend and colleague from New York, James Lima, is pulling this gang together and is going to kind of anchor the conversation and talk about all the different kinds of interventions that are possible. And then we have folks coming in from Brooklyn and from New York and from Vancouver and wherever Amahl happens to be located and really pleased to have you joining us to talk about some, to leave people, I think with a sense that things can actually be done. There are tangible ways that we can actually make interventions. And then once the session is finished, we’ll have a wrap up and I’m going to have a special conversation with the chief of police in Edmonton, Dale McFee on the hour. So very appreciative to have you also with us. And over to you, James. Thanks for joining us. 


James Lima [00:01:11] Mary, thank you. You’re always a tough act to follow. I’ve got to pull from your energy and thank you for convening an incredible group from across North America to talk about these issues of sort of on the ground solutions to some of the problems that we’ve all been facing. It’s a pretty stellar group. We’re going to talk about how specifically we’re going to get past this, this need for recovery and really move beyond it, right. Not just bounce back to really bounce forward and, as you say, catapult to a more dynamic future. I’m James Lima. I’m the president of a real estate economic public policy advisory firm. We’ve been doing a pretty extensive piece of work in downtown Calgary for the city of Calgary with the Calgary Downtown Association, the BIA. And I’ll talk a little bit about that in a bit and joined by Nolan Marshall, the 3rd, who is the president CEO of the downtown Vancouver BIA. My dear friend from many years of working together in New York City, in government and Regina Myer, who’s the president of the Downtown Brooklyn partnership, under which there are three business improvement districts. Nick Griffin is the executive director for Downtown Centre Bid in Los Angeles, and Amahl Hazelton is an important voice in multimedia entertainment studios and as a digital place maker, and I can’t wait to hear what he’s going to show us next. So I just want to talk a little bit about some recent surveys about downtowns and the way a lot of us are thinking about downtowns. You know, Gensler recently polled about 7500 people in 15 cities around the world, and it turns out we’re not thinking about Central Business District as places of work so much anymore, right? There are ideas that it’s a lifestyle hub,right. Now, that’s been happening for a while, but it really seems to be accelerated in a way that so much of what’s happened in the last two plus years, you know, is catching, you know, many of us by surprise. But what’s really interesting is that in the year or so since people have been surveyed on numerous occasions, what is really jumped toward the top just behind shopping, is the value of parks and open space and the need for our public realm. And so I think one of the things we’re talking about today is both the role and the importance of public realm strategies, but the critical role that the unsung heroes of urban revitalisation and transformation over the last couple of decades, but even more critical actors today as we come out of the pandemic is that the BIA is the place management organisations and district management organisations. So we’ve got three incredible leaders from North America to talk about that. I just want to talk for me a little bit about the way that some of our current work is supporting that idea that, you know, one should never let a crisis go to waste. These are two places that, before the pandemic were already in a state of crisis, one with a strong economy and a problematic public realm, and one with a kind of a faltering public realm and a deep economic crisis. We’ll start with Calgary, a boom and bust centre, as you know that, you know, because of plunging oil and gas prices, it was in a deep recession and had a 30 percent office vacancy rate before the pandemic. And so we came to this idea of looking at the public realm that the ways to get people to recommit to a downtown that was faltering and fragile, not so much about replacing benches and rethinking urban design. So much as envisioning what the role of this central spine of a major downtown in a major world city could be in the life of the city, in the region, in the broader economy. And so it was really focussing on the need to move toward a diversified economy and all the things that could support that. And I’m really thrilled to see that three key tenants, next slide of what we’ve been proposing around office to residential conversion, about changes to governance and really amplifying the arts are all being advanced in really ambitious ways. It’s really exciting to see, we worked with Gail and with Stantec on a plan for Stephen Avenue and focused pretty extensively on the need to create more vibrancy downtown. The other thing that was so surprising for a city of this size where there actually is a lot of creative energy, there is a big arts community is it wasn’t legible on the street. And so we said, you need to make your main street much more hospitable to artists and to the arts and to really make that very much one of the first presentations in some of these underutilised retail spaces. We’ve talked about the role that hopefully my colleagues are going to talk today about how they act as director and choreographer of their districts. And, you know, because at best, these downtowns really are live theatre and they’re great stage sets. And so in that way, we looked at Stephen Avenue and the opportunities here in this crisis moment to really amplify the role of of arts and artists and the creative community, and to move from a cowboy energy town to a much more diverse knowledge economy, in my view, more interesting and sustainable economy, social and cultural identity. And so in the way that it’s choreography and kind of a framework that we’re managing, I think to continue the run of metaphors. It’s also a way of basically creating a public realm framework that we can think of as a healthy artificial reef. You know, we create this, this armature, this reef. And if we get it right, various populations of tropical fish will come and go. And that’s the beauty of it, right? The sustainable model is a healthy, flexible, adaptive, artificial reef, which is our public realm framework around which all the other private things has the flexibility to grow and change over time, and so we really focus on that red, the diagram of that public realm and want it to be this kind of creative note next. So governance is another key piece, and so the downtown of the Calgary Downtown Association is actually soliciting for a new executive director. The city has made a very, very ambitious commitment to downtown. Thom Mahler spoke earlier today about their significant commitments to the office to residential conversion, but also other incentives to create new investment downtown, to focus on diversification, to keep doing work on the knowledge economy. And so I think the key piece now is for the BIA to really reimagine itself and to become a much more proactive and engaged full partner in this and love to hear from, you know, our BIA and bid leaders today about some of those opportunities in Canada for the BIAs to play an even more ambitious role. Next, and then in in California for downtown, in San Jose, again, a booming tech economy where there is unprecedented demand for a new investment in real estate, particularly by the tech giant Google, but are really struggling and inhospitable public realm that has only made recovery that much more difficult. This was an underlying problem that existed before Covid, so you could see and in the crosshatch blue, Google’s campus quite large, taking over and creating an $8 billion new facility. The Guadalupe River Park runs right down the centre of downtown San Jose. There’s, in grey on the left. That’s the existing private properties in downtown and in the blue above it. That’s the scale of announced proposed new development, so it’s almost doubling the scale and size of development downtown. And yet, next slide. The downtown conditions are dreadful as the as the the centre of gravity moves toward this new Google campus. Anchored around the Diridon train station, Guadalupe becomes a front door address. But it’s really in need of investment and repair next. So it’s really a conversation about how the bid, how the city, how these major private anchors can all work together. This is a really a flood infrastructure that was created in the 90s that never quite became a resource public park and desperately needs reinvestment next time. And where homeless camps have really created the need for a conversation about how the housed and the unhoused can coexist in public space. And it’s a really difficult and critical conversation. I know that’s been part of the conversation over the last two days. That really has to happen in parallel with all of the other BIA and bid objectives and mandates. Next. So we said let’s create a larger district that really focuses on the ways that all the publicly held property in pink on this map can be part of a planning equitably strategy so that as we move forward, more affordable housing is intentionally prioritised and low cost space for artists and makers can be part of a district that would otherwise have a tendency to become a high value, high income tech worker location. 


Nolan Marshall [00:11:42] I guess this is the hand off to me, James, with my lovely photo on the screen. Thank you. I’m Nolan Marshall, the third president and CEO of the downtown Vancouver BIA. And I’m relatively new here in Canada. I’ve been here at the BIA for eight months and spent most of my career in post-Katrina New Orleans working the last 16 years on recovery. And so not by choice. Recovery seems to be just modus operandi for the work that I’ve done. When we start our recovery work in New Orleans post-Katrina, it’s relevant to what I think we’re all thinking about and facing here. And I said that if I talked about this, I would talk about it with smiles, while I try to do so. But we decided that no place can be as great as it wants to be if it’s not a place that that everyone feels safe. And so I spent those six years working directly on public safety, education reform, rebuilding our school system so we deliver public education in a different way. Housing policy we completely reformed and transform the way that we deliver public housing, switching to a mixed housing model, tearing down historic housing projects that were built in the 1940s. I worked on equitable neighbourhood development, investing in historically underinvested corridors in the city. And really, reimagining the way that we deliver economic development to the people in the city of New Orleans, and all that was done with the mindset of again, no place can be as great as it wants to be. If it’s going to be, no way, no place can be as great as it wants to be a place where everyone feels safe. And here in Vancouver to address some of the public safety concerns that we’ve had, we’ve certainly invested in and advoacted for complex care and supportive housing, access to safe drug supply. Community outreach workers are embedded in our safety ambassador program and we’ve done things like increase overnight controls and all of those things are important and necessary. And you know, we’ve got, we’re in a bit of a fortunate situation in Vancouver we’ve got multiple class AAA office projects under construction and we’ve got Amazon bringing three thousand plus workers into our community. But if no one feels safe in our community, our recovery is going to be halted and stalled out like many other downtowns in North America. And so one of the things, next slide, please. One of the things that we know has to be the underpinning and foundation of our recovery, but our downtowns have to be safe and inclusive. And so one of the key projects that we proposed this summer and took on the summer was a Granville Street Promenade, Granville Street during the pandemic. We had one of our hotel properties converted into an SRO to house the homeless population. Granville Street is a historic district, or a historic street and Vancouver, home to most of the nightclubs, nightlife, small business, retail, but it’s seen its brighter days are ahead of it. It’s seen, some challenges over the last couple of years and especially over the pandemic, from increased drug use to homelessness on the street. And one of the asks that we have for the city was to let us close Granville Street down during the day on weekends to create a Granville Street promenade. When we went to go talk to city councillors, one of the councillors was concerned that in doing this promenade and including inviting people down on Granville Street and up and activating it and unique and different way, we would displace the people who had come to call it home. People living in their sorrows, the people who were part of the homeless population. And so one of the things that we realised is that when we activate these places, we have to be intentional around which places we choose. And we have to be intentional around how we activate them a safe and inclusive spaces. And so we activated Granville Street, one block away from the entrance to an SRO, and a council member told me, she said, I’m really concerned that if we allow you to do this, you’re going to displace those people who live there. And I told the council member, there’s there’s no way I would ever be a part of this place and people who live anywhere because if I throw this hoodie on my hoodie on, I look like I don’t belong. Sometimes it’s downtown spaces. And so displacement is something that we are deeply concerned about and don’t want to do. But creating safe and inclusive places, places that people in the community feel like they belong. People in the community can engage in activities during the day. Those are the kinds of activities that immediately result in people feeling safe. People during the Granville Street Promenade, ninety two percent said they felt safe during our promenade. So we know we have to invest in all of the other activities the reforms, the complex care solution, safe drug supply. But placemaking and a really intentional way around where we do it, who we include in it can really make the community feel safe again. Ninety two percent of people said they felt safe on Granville Street during our operation. Next slide, please. And one of the things that we have to also make sure that we do as we contemplate the future of our downtowns or what recovery looks like is double down on diversity. I think all of our downtowns bids and BIAs have done a much better job in recent years, making sure that we include different cultural communities and our activations, especially in our public art projects. Here in Vancouver, we’ve engaged the Indigenous community and a lot of our public art activations. I think that’s certainly part of making sure that we are building a welcoming and inclusive approach places, but no place can be as great as it wants to be unless everyone has equal access to the economy and a place as well. Oftentimes, when we think about recovery and when we think about urban renewal and urban projects, especially think about the history of downtowns and the cycles that they’ve gone through, they often result in a lot of displacement, and oftentimes a lot of people aren’t included in the economy as we rebuild our downtowns. And so one thing that is top of mind for me as we think about recovery is how do we how do we make sure as our retail makes changes in our communities, how do we make sure that we are engaging with partners, whether it be universities or non-profits, to make sure that the communities of people who are homeless or recovering from addiction, the proper training that some of those retail and hospitality jobs. And as we re-emerge as a retail destination, as tourists again visit our towns, how do we make sure that we have proper pathways for people to participate in our economy as we are rebuilding some of our downtown buildings and reimagining Class A, B and C office space? How do we make sure that historically disenfranchised or Indigenous contractors have access to those opportunities? Because again, one of the things that we we don’t want to do is we don’t want our recovery to result in the displacement of anyone, want to make sure that we are building a downtown that really serve as the engine for economic recovery for everyone. I think that’s my last thought everyone.


Regina Meyer [00:19:21] Hi, I guess this is my cue. I’m Regina Meyer, president of the downtown Brooklyn partnership. Why don’t we go to the next slide? As Jim mentioned, we run three business improvement districts, in Brooklyn downtown Brooklyn area and been focussing on recovery from day one. Go to the next slide. Really for us, we’ve been on the ground from day one. Brooklyn was definitely part of ground zero during the height of the pandemic. We’ve been doing everything here in the bid to making sure vaccine hubs are located. Next slide. Doing fundraisers for our incredible staff in our local hospital, which was just two blocks away and hit so, so very hard. Next slide. But we’ve also focused almost immediately on business support to make sure our retail in the downtown was supported in every way we can. We were really lucky in a way to have essential services ongoing and open. Next slide. Working to supply everybody with food and drugstores and essential things. But we really did almost focus immediately on making sure that our work directly supported BIPOC companies that were right here in Brooklyn and affected so hard. So that and that was really the gamut of business services from working with banks for direct, for loans for PPP. And now, of course, into more of a marketing phase and grant access and the kind of local business support we can give by making sure, frankly, that the black entrepreneurs in our district really are amplified to the to the biggest extent possible. Next slide. But talking about what happened on the ground, I unfortunately love showing this slide because nothing shows the drop in pedestrian activity when you see a slide to almost looks like what happened to the stock market the past couple of days. But this really dramatises how things, as we all know in old downtowns, just stopped with the onsite onset of covid. And what we were really, next slide. What we were really trying to do was think of every which way we can keep our neighbourhoods safe and support our businesses. So the first thing we did and you know, obviously the crisis started in March, but by May we were advocating to our transportation department that streets needed to be closed for more activity, more safe gathering. And then, of course, next slide, for to make sure that our streets looked great. And to make sure people felt safe. And then the next slide, of course, is really to support our restaurants because they maintained so much of our local jobs and our local street activity. And so we here in Brooklyn were really on the forefront of the most open restaurant movement in New York City. And it was really a I have to say this was one time where the not for profit and the business improvement sector really worked really well with city government to make sure this happened well. Next slide, focussing also once it became safe on indoor dining again, that’s where so many of our lower wage jobs are in the downtown area. And then the next slide, if we really did double down on events that were not really ran the gamut. All of our event programming has always been incredibly diverse. We really felt lucky that we were able to continue our programming. Other places in New York City honestly halted programming for a while, but we felt comfortable enough with the numbers that we felt people were safe. So I was really proud to continue our programming work throughout the downtown. Next slide. We and for the past two summers, this has been ongoing and really, I have to say we have one of the biggest Zumba classes in New York City, pingpong, and really great music. Next slide. And we also did, for the first time last year, we partnered with the Van Alen Institute, to focus on how we can activate public space during the coldest winter months and when this project by Ekene Ijeomawas called the Breathing Pavilion, this was tremendously successful project right on our main thoroughfare of Flatbush Avenue. And we also programmed it with solo jazz artists every Tuesday evening for the duration of the project. So this was a really successful activation in the winter. Next slide. The other thing that really happened also in terms of recovery is that all the thinking about the streets got us to really focus on what we knew all along. And that was that our streetscapes really needed to be notched up the notch to respond to how much of that, not just how much development has happened in Brooklyn over the past 20 years, but how much the district has transformed into a really a mixed use area that, looking back, had been ignored for so long. So we really took advantage of that. We had coincidentally, we had already been working with two great firms, WXY and Big on working on streetscape in the area. But the next slide. Used the downtime, so to speak, of the recovery, to focus on working with our transportation division, to honestly pilot some projects that we would have never been able to get through and get the attention of if it hadn’t been this kind of crisis. And I like Jim saying that never waste a crisis. So through this time, we had one development, a large development right off Fulton Street going forward. We were able to convince our transportation group here and the City and City Hall to move forward with a pilot project to upgrade the streetscape along the entire block. This is a rendering, and then the next slide shows construction capital construction that we’ve gotten underway in this really, really compressed time frame. So that was really, very exciting. We really took away. Honestly, we’ve taken away parking. We were able to widen sidewalks and develop with the city, a brand new streetscape paradigm for downtown Brooklyn and in the next slide. We are now working with yet another developer and the city to improve the area around the hour, arguably one of downtown Brooklyn’s finest buildings, which is vacant now on the Dime Savings Bank. So, you know, my message in the next slide is really to never waste this crisis. These are these are renderings. These are not in construction yet, but it gave us the opportunity to prove to all of our stakeholders that it was time to really focus on the granular block by block environment to make sure that once we are through recovery, that we come back better. And that’s it.


Nick Griffin [00:27:52] Great. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for for both of those. I’m always so inspired to even be in this industry when I see stuff that Regina is doing, what Nolan’s doing. James, you had me at Artificial Reef. It’s just, you know, it’s and particularly during this time, I have found this work to be incredibly inspiring along with challenge. So next slide. So as most of you, we’re still treading water here in downtown Los Angeles, by the way. Nick Griffin, executive director of the downtown Los Angeles bid in case I did not mention that, but like most of you, we’re still treading water here in downtown Los Angeles, office workers had to come back. You know, as we’ve been treading water for two years, it’s been two years of stops and starts, twists and turns, crisis, stabilisation, recovery. Repeat. But what I want to focus on today is more about looking forward and sort of laying the groundwork for a revitalisation. This is actually something that I’ve insisted we do from the beginning of the crisis because, you know, we knew it would eventually pass, but also because crises or for opportunity, because they shake up the status quo, they force you to look at things differently and to come up with new solutions. I was in the real estate industry in New York after 9/11, and I feel like that that prepared me in a lot of ways for that understanding of how what seemed like an existential crisis or what was an existential crisis would then transform into a huge shift and opportunity that led to an amazing flourishing New York. So, the things I want to focus on are these are kind of been my mantras over this last year reigniting enthusiasm for downtown, storytelling and community engagement, faces and physical places.  Next slide. So interestingly, we had commissioned a study right before the pandemic, the end of 2019. We wanted to do a placemaking assessment of our district. We don’t have a long tradition of doing physical place making, and so we want to lay the groundwork for that. And so we hired a firm. We had a big RFP, we got amazing proposals. We hired a firm. We were about to kick it off in February. Things got, went south. We postponed it a few times. But then we said, You know what? We’re just going to go ahead and do this anyway. Turned into one of the most inspiring projects I’ve ever undertaken, because here we were learning about the demise of cities and the end of what we even knew and the streets were empty and it really was catastrophic. And our task was to look at centre and find the beauty, find the opportunities, look at what we could do, and I tell you, it became a labour of love for the group that was involved in this we had Zoom calls where the whole crew was crying. I mean, it was really it was very powerful. And I think out of that came from amazing work. We’re going to be able to build on going forward. Next slide. So the other thing that we did was, you know, giving tours is one of the things that are bin has always been known for. We do development tours, housing tours, retail tours, investment tours. It’s really, you know, pandemic kicks in and it’s pretty clear we’re not going to be putting 50 people on a bus any time soon. And so we said, Well, what, how could we do this otherwise? You know, what could could we do a virtual tour? We talked with our creative agency. We looked around at a bunch of existing stuff and nothing seemed particularly compelling, and we ended up deciding to build it ourselves with our creative agency. And again, amazing project. Super inspiring to do it. And the end result is amazing. I’ll put the links in the chat. The end result has been phenomenal. We won a Pinnacle Award last year for this. It’s been a huge success. And you know, what was amazing was, again, we were doing this in the midst of the pandemic, and it honestly felt so inspiring because in the midst of all this doom and gloom, we were shooting these amazing 360 degree high def panoramic images of the most beautiful parts of downtown, and it was almost like a way to celebrate it in the midst of this. And so it was very inspiring and then gave us this amazing foundation that we now have. You know, we very quickly realised it was going to be much more than just replacing our existing doors because the minute we started doing, we realised, Oh, we can now give tours for an investor in Hong Kong. We can give this platform to developers and investors to use themselves. We can do broker tours for not 50 people on a bus, but a 100 people, you know? I mean, the opportunities that came out of this were phenomenal. And that’s what I mean about really leaning into the crisis and finding the opportunity. This was a prime example of that. And just also a lot of fun to do. We came up with some really cool things we were when we realised we’re not actually constrained by a bus. Not only means we aren’t constrained by the capacity of 50 people, we’re not constrained by the sightlines and which has always been one of my frustrations getting bus tours. You’re always looking at the street level and I’m trying to like text and say the reason this location is important is because of this. We droned, and we have this amazing drone video footage where you can fly around downtown and see it from this bird’s eye view in amazing ways. I would demo it. I was going to demo it for you guys, but it’s it sometimes gets glitchy on Zoom when you’re demoing it. So I didn’t want to do that, but I’d be happy to give anyone a demo if they’d like to look at developing something like this. The company that we did it with actually has now turned it into a product called Vistity, which is available to other bids, and it’s actually relatively affordable to build. So then the last one. Next slide. So our next project, which is following on this is DTLAUGMENTED following UTLAREIMAGINED. You got the theme going here and this we’re really excited about because this is actually going to be to take digital into the physical. One of the things I’ve been super excited about with augmented reality is it is the intersection of digital and physical. It could bring add a whole digital layer to your physical space, and I’ve always said sort of in our meetings with potential producers of this, that one of the great things about cities is there more than meets the eye? Right? And this is something that can sort of reveal a lot of that stuff and add a whole nother layer. Next slide. So just in closing, I want to give you this crazy Venn diagram that we came up with early on. It is because what this captures is the extent to which there’s so much overlap in the work that we’re doing here between, you know, you see all the sectors, the office, residential, retail, arts and culture. Those little. Those are the audience personas that we developed with our agency to understand who are we talking to in each one of these sectors, right? Who is our audience? And then obviously the outside rim is the things we’re trying to do attract, engage, promote, generate enthusiasm. And so each one of those projects utlareimagined, dtlvirtual, dtlaugmented are sort of hitting on different sectors, different potential audiences doing different things in each one of them. But there’s a real sort of overlap across them, and we get a lot of sort of cross-pollination, synergy and all. So that’s I think I’ve gone over my time and I’m happy to talk more later. But this was really about the intersection of content, communication and community, which has been our sort of again, a mantra all through this time. Thanks. 


Amahl Hazelton [00:36:49] Fantastic Nick. Thanks so much. Now we’re going to hear from Amahl, and then we’re going to open it up for conversation among the group. Thank you. And please post questions and comments in the chat. Thanks, Amahl. Thanks, James. The it’s great to be here, I see a few clients and people that we’ve worked with in BIAs around the country and in North America, and can couture in the audience from Waterfront Business Improvement Area in Toronto. Two hats since 2009, I’ve been a producer at Woman Factory overseeing our digital placemaking projects, and prior to that in the 2000s, much, like many of you on the call. I was one of the leaders of the Catalyst Tech Partnership in Montreal, which really worked with all the downtown stakeholders to put in place next generation public infrastructure for events activations in downtown. So it’s good experience from both of those. Next slide. One of the things that is core to the thinking of what we do and that I think everybody would agree with is that there is no brick and mortar without people. People, the presence of people has driven the growth of our downtowns there, the pulse of the beating heart of our downtowns, working, living, shopping, playing and next slide. That with the rupture from the pandemic lockdown and driving people out of the core that they can live workshop play even down in their basements. It’s been a real challenge to revive the pulse and bring those people back to the offer of the downtown. Next slide. And so not only do we want to, but there’s a huge appetite to get people out of their experiential basements next slide. And back into the downtowns, but what is the lure that we offer in 2021 in our downtowns to actually have people make the investment and the effort to come back downtown? Next slide. And one of the things that we’ve been working with communities of all sizes across the world is on introducing a new layer of architecture and urban infrastructure that unlocks the power, the storytelling power of our traditional bricks and mortars, and makes it more accessible, democratic and participative. If you’re looking at projects, for example, in Ottawa’s downtown with the National Arts Centre, that we did with Diamond Schmitt next slide. It may look on at times like normal traditional architecture, but embedded into this facility is an ability to talk to the world, not only about the stories and the programming that is happening on the many stages inside of the National Arts Centre, but also to celebrate creativity from across Canada and many of the other key performance venues that can be transmitted to tourists and the general public using the architecture of our spaces and our buildings as a communication and storytelling tool. And not only for the stories of that venue and our nation as a whole. Next slide. But also to participate and make our infrastructure accessible, to tell many different stories and unlock the ability of these spaces to invite other peoples and other voices into a dialogue that is traditionally been extremely exclusive, given that the static and timeless nature of much of our investment in architecture of public space. Next Slide. And it’s not just major cultural venues, it is also corporate partners, and downtown’s worked with AT&T Discovery District to create a next generation public space fungible and open to the public that would anchor the revitalisation of downtown Dallas. But a corporate partner trying to create a platform within which all kinds of art, programming and events. What you’re seeing in the bottom left is a interactive bandshell that can be reoriented in the space that we developed with the Gensler and holds free, sometimes closed and private events and functions, and has increased the capacity of what was otherwise a relatively barren and difficult to program downtown into a place for all kinds of events and activities, including sports and major entertainment like football games are broadcasted on the screen that you’re seeing in the background. Next slide. And where we’re trying to go with these new technologies is not to be nature, the traditional evolution of the language of architecture, but to actually build with light and integrate these technologies directly into our hard scapes. Next Slide. And call on developers private and public to include the requisite not only the physical infrastructure that we need for our place making, but also the digital infrastructure that unlocks our ability to create and welcome events and experiences large and small. Next slide. And so you look at something like Montreal, a space that can be during the day, a place for circulation traffic actually can go up and down this boulevard, but at night. Next slide. It suddenly activates the night-time economy and become a platform that allows constant commissioning and curation of various art and entertainment programes that can be brought in and give something to people to see and do, even in times of social distancing. Next slide. And in cases like this, is a projection mapping on a building University of Quebec in Montreal. That is embedded into the lighting program, permanent, not just low resolution LED lighting, making the space more ambient and amenable and welcoming and perhaps less threatening, night-time spaces urban spaces, but also unlocking our ability to communicate and allow people. So in this case, a project where people could speak into a microphone, their words were projected up onto the building’s certain words were extracted from the Voice Recognition Dictionary, and they were spread up on the wall. People could speak freely, poetry, artists, politicians spoke and used the buildings, which are essentially supposed to be the voice of the people to communicate new and creative ways, driving people downtown and generating cultural and economic offsets. Next slide. And not just a game on cultural districts, but even the very architecture that is the voice of our nation unlocking the ability. In this case, we had an interactive projection mapping project on the facade of the parliament of Ottawa, where people were able from across the nation to submit video clips of what their communities their nation means to them. And those would be curated during the week and introduced into placeholders within the video projection. And this, these kind of projects in terms of activating downtowns are this one, for example, number one on TripAdvisor for the 10 years that it was operating and outpacing visitors ship for any of the national museums or other assets. Next slide. So the challenge that we’re making with to cities and to business improvement districts and to private investors cultural investors is to expand our notion of our ROI from return on investment, not information to ROE next slide. And expand it to look at the return on emotion, return on education, experience, engagement and entertainment. And these platforms next slide. Well, I think we lost one. That these platforms can even be used in times of emergency. So not just for entertainment, storytelling, art, but also when, for example, in the time of when, when Covid hit in the middle of March of 2020, we were able to repurpose the platform of the festival place of Quartier des Spectacles. And it was in March 2020, the first pop up testing site in Canada that people could drive through because all of the digital infrastructure, electricity, fibre optics, et cetera, was baked into that plasma that allowed pavilion’s heaters communications technology to be just plug and play and be used not just for an entertainment festival music festival, but for allowing people to come through a crisis such as the one that we’re just coming out of now. Thanks. Look forward to the conversation. 


James Lima [00:46:31] Thanks so much, Amahl. It was great, everyone there was a lot of ground to cover and in the limited time we have and thank you everyone for the comments in the chat. I want to just pose a couple of questions. The first, having heard everybody talk about needing to be responsive to so many different diverse constituencies and to be nimble and innovating, taking risks, but also needing to work with government partners. And like, I’m thinking back to a session earlier today when what was referred to as the quote shortening of the innovation cycle during the pandemic, where government and others were achieving a greater. You were achieving a greater degree of cooperation and coordination and also trust people talked about the growing trust amongst public and private players, and I wonder, what does that mean for the future of the work that you need to do and what’s achievable in our downtowns in the context of recovery, of the changing nature of of work, of retail, of tourism, of technology, of mobility of virtually everything and virtually virtual? Where do you start and how can that changing relationship with a primary funder be an opportunity. The government, you know, can find ways to be more collaborative partner with you. 


Nick Griffin [00:48:07] I’m going to let others take these, because, honestly, in Los Angeles, we’ve been underwhelmed by the public sector collaboration with us on this. So I think it’s been better in other places, but. 


Nolan Marshall [00:48:23] In Vancouver, we’re able to relatively quickly stand up patio program in the city of Vancouver, where we allowed restaurants and businesses to use public space access and patio. And it happened so quickly in a city that is notorious for taking quite some time to get anything through zoning and permitting. It is the model that we point to in the future who are trying to access Grandville Street closed down on weekends. It’s what we pointed to and said, You’ve demonstrated that you can do this. Let’s continue to do this and we’ll continue to point to those successes of them moving quickly as we try to build our programming and the future. We’re going to have and we’re all facing the pandemic that we’re facing now. This specific recovery. But this is the nature of the work that we do or that we will always be responding to something in our communities. And if we can get our partners, particularly government partners, to respond quickly with us, that’s going to be the key to all of our success being able to understand what’s coming and race into that curve and hit it really quickly with that with an adequate response. 


Regina Meyer [00:49:37] Yeah, I would say in New York City, there’s been a range of issues, obviously in recovery. I focused in on my presentation on the upside, which was definitely getting transportation and other public education space initiatives underway and the positive response to those. I think there’s a, you know, I would be remiss if not to mention how, the, very large homeless population, mostly in midtown Manhattan that sadly has been the result of, you know, lack of services, lack of housing and empty areas of our midtown. Those have been large, difficult problems. I’m really proud to say we have a new mayor in the past three weeks who’s been dealt some very serious issues and some real tragedy in the past few weeks and has been really willing to take on tough issues and talk about the intersection of public safety, of crime and of mental health. But we obviously have a long way to go, and I think that it’s just going to take committed people, in all sectors to solve some of the toughest issues here. 


James Lima [00:51:01] What do you think of some of the technology that we’re seeing out of L.A. is going to be useful for you as you start to think about ways to do more work virtually and with the aid of technology. 


Nick Griffin [00:51:24] Are you asking me or? 


James Lima [00:51:26]  I’m asking others. I wanted to see the technology tour, but it feels like as we start to think about transitioning districts that are much more about lifestyle hubs and not necessarily work centres that you need to reconfigure and pivot and how can technology be part of that? 


Nick Griffin [00:51:48] One thing that I want to make clear is that we in no way meant those should be replacements, but both temporary bridges, but also ways that even post-pandemic, we would be able to attract folks. Gain their interest, engage them and then draw them down. It’s really we’re in no way planning to move downtown into the metaverse and close thrill. 


Regina Meyer [00:52:21] Well, speaking for myself, I love Nick’s tour of downtown L.A. So and that was in real life. But, you know, I think technology is going to play a part. Obviously, we’re all concerned as city managers about getting people back to work. I think we’ll all admit with a smile that it’s people like us and people in the real estate industry have been the quickest to come back to work. But people in media and so many other sectors have have not speaking for Brooklyn and actually most of New York City. Our housing market could not be stronger right now, and we don’t even, I would say, sort of as an aside, I don’t even think we need technology to sell housing right now. 


Nick Griffin [00:53:06] In Los Angeles too, for housing, for sure. 


Regina Meyer [00:53:09] So, you know, it’s really for us, it’s got it’s going to be an uphill. I think it’s going to be a real challenge. I was going to say uphill battle, but I don’t think that’s just right. I think this is going to be a real challenge of rethinking what office space is like, how it’s used. Is that going to be a permanent or temporary glut. I mean, those are for all, for this panel. I’d like to, you know, get back together another six months. Great question.


Amahl Hazelton [00:53:34] Yeah. Thanks. Well. I had a real response to what Nick and both Regina said was that the experience the decision making around visiting a place is often tightly tied to a feeling of deja vu that people have a certain comfort level or understanding about the destination that they may want to visit or invest in as a company. And I think tools like what Nick put in place are critical to creating a mechanism and a platform for people to build that understanding of a destination. And it’s a huge factor in people making the decision to go there boots on the ground in person, which is what all of those economies depend on. The digital very hard to monetize. But boots on the ground to footfall in a district is extremely important. And Regina the a, you talked about activations that you put in place with the Van Allen Institute. And also about the accelerated retrofit. Maybe we call it of some of the streetscapes and public spaces to make them more amenable not only to pedestrians, but to some of the the neighbours, the constituents of your districts, like restaurants, et cetera, that can occupy those spaces in more easy ways. I’m super curious to see other districts that are also investing in putting in some of that invisible infrastructure that allows those spaces to be activated. I don’t know if you had that experience with Van Allen Institute, but sometimes there’s no electricity to plug in to. There’s there’s no internet or data to be used to program a space. And I think that’s a real critical call to action for governments and cities to create new programs for embedding next generation infrastructure such that activation and occupants like the light art and the restaurants can just plug in and don’t have that friction of needing generators which cost millions and diesel and also belch out all kinds of carbon dioxide. So I’m super curious to see other districts that are starting to invest in that enabling infrastructure. 


Nolan Marshall [00:55:50] One of the things, and Regina mentioned the issues around homelessness and some of the street disorder that our new Mayor is trying to take on. And we know those are those are often difficult issues for governments to respond quickly to. But what I’m pushing the local governments to do, is to do just what you said is to invest in some of that next generation infrastructure that provides the kinds of lighting that not only helps businesses and us as placemakers, but also can be used for public safety. All right, we typically talk about wanting to be more walkable, more bankable, but we still light our roadways and traditional ways with street lamp is turned towards the street, and the pedestrian realm is often dark and we’re recreating scenes from batman when we do that right. We can create sort of the, we can do what we do as placemakers and provide opportunities to do really creative things while also doing an intervention that’ll help us from a safety standpoint and dealing some of the street disorder that we have. So that’s that’s where I’ve been trying to push our local government because some of the other solutions. So the street is what we’re seeing, which is harder and harder for them to grasp what what the impact will be. 


James Lima [00:57:06] And on, when the International Downtown Association convenes in your city later this year, what’s the one thing you want to make sure you’re in a better place than you’re at today? 


Nolan Marshall [00:57:18] Oh, it would it would definitely be around public safety. And we are in a very fortunate position. I’ve got a world class Triple-A office buildings the way that our downtown has been built historically. We’ve got a number of people living in our core. And so we are when I talk to my peers around the country and around the rest of North America, we are very fortunate in Vancouver. But what underpins all of that is the sense of safety. And so we’ve got to really get a handle on that. And that’s why I hope we’re in a much better place when people come to visit Vancouver in the fall. 


Nick Griffin [00:57:57] You know, if I could just jump in real quick, I know we’re running out of time, but one of the things I wanted to do just, one of the things that we’ve been sort of. Focusing on as much as we can is understanding, ways that this that these various pieces reinforce each other. Right, so like communications and technology and storytelling being ways that you shape people’s place.  But also literally how you then connect with them to tell them something is happening there to get them down there. To get them to share that, then becomes so you can create a sort of continuous reinforcing loop there and that’s something that we’re focused very much on because the reality is, that this is where people are and it is how they communicated. It is the way that they can then sort of force multiply your message and what’s happening in your place. I just think it’s very rich terrain to keep pushing the envelope on. 


James Lima [00:59:03] Thank you, Nick, and thank you, everyone, for a great discussion. Great to get some insights into what’s happening in your districts and appreciate everyone’s time, and I’m going to turn it over to Mary, who I think is transitioning the group to the final session. 


Mary Rowe [00:59:22] Yeah. Thank you so much, guys. Really great to have you on. And I was just remarking that we had a quite a few Americans there, which is I’m a dual citizen so I can take credit there. Nice to have a refreshing audience, you know, for our audience to hear from us from the south of the 49th. But also, we always have a lot of envy in Canadian cities about what you’re able to do an American cities. I know it works both ways because we had Americans on yesterday said, well, actually, we have a lot of envy towards Canada, so it’s important that we learnt about these things. And Nolan, your comment about where are the, what are the where are the lamp standards? I think about that all the time. It’s just kind of crazy. What are we lighting? It’s a very simple thing, but aren’t you guys fabulous for coming on with James? And I also just have to say that I noticed Regina calls you, Jim too. Just saying. We’re from his previous life anyway. 


James Lima [01:00:11] Friends of longstanding. 


Mary Rowe [01:00:12] That’s right, we’re old friends, but I appreciate you bringing the different perspectives you did because. And also really great for us on timing of the two days because we have, you know, the sessions have really varied in terms of what they were focused on. So very appreciative for you to talk very specifically about improving place because all the things that were touched on in the previous two days, you kind of rolled into this narrative. So thanks for joining us, Nick from sunny California. Regina, I’m assuming it’s chilly in New York. I don’t know what it’s like in Brooklyn, but it’s a cold air, as it would be for you, James. And Amahl are you an Montreal today? 


Amahl Hazelton [01:00:44] Yeah. 


Mary Rowe [01:00:45] Well, I’m sure it’s cold there too, and we know it’s not well, has been cold. I can’t. You can’t. You can’t actually say it’s not cold in Vancouver because it could be. Nolan, you’ve had quite a weather experience since you moved from New Orleans, but you’ve moved at a time when Vancouver has had extraordinary weather swings, but you’re used to that. I remember when I lived in New Orleans, you were there too, and you just didn’t like the weather, New Orleans. You just waited 15 minutes, and that’s kind of what’s happening now for you where you are now. So thanks for joining us, gang. Really appreciate it. And this is just the beginning for us. We’re going to continue this conversation all year. So thank you so much for joining us. And now we’re going to go to our wrap up session. 


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

We are going to keep things moving and jump right into our next session “What can be done on the ground to recover our downtowns?” History has shown us that cities are remarkably resilient, even when faced with sudden or chronic challenges. What tangible ways can civic leaders, policymakers and entrepreneurs bring our downtowns not only back, but catapult them to a new dynamic future?

05:24:09 Canadian Urban Institute: Joining us today are:

Amahl Hazelton, Producer, Strategy and Development, Moment Factory 
Nick Griffin, Executive Director, Downtown Center Business Improvement District, Los Angeles 
Nolan Marshall III, President and CEO at Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association  

Regina Myer, CEO, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, New York 


This session will be moderated by James Lima, President of James Lima Planning + Development

05:24:59 Canadian Urban Institute: James Lima has extensive experience in the planning and implementation of urban revitalization projects throughout North America. His real estate and economic advisory firm, James Lima Planning + Development, helps public and private sector clients create more vibrant, equitable, and resilient places. JLP+D provides planning, policy, real estate, and economic advisory services for downtown revitalization, institutional real estate value creation, great placemaking, and shaping impactful public policy. Prior to founding JLP+D in 2011, James was a partner at a national real estate and economic advisory firm focusing on downtown revitalization, mixed-use development and waterfront revitalization. As a public development official in NYC, James led the City’s Downtown Brooklyn Redevelopment Plan and was later appointed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg as founding President of the public corporation charged with planning, redeveloping and operating Governors Island in New York Harbor.

05:25:33 Canadian Urban Institute: Nolan Marshall is the President and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver BIA. Prior to joining the DVBIA he served as the Chief Engagement and Solutions Officer at the New Orleans Business Alliance. He lead cross collaboration between Small Business Growth, Strategic Neighborhood Development, and Industry Attraction and Retention teams, and engagement with public sector partners around the economic opportunities and challenges facing New Orleans. His prior work has included grassroots and grasstops community organizing in public safety and public education policy, place based economic development strategies, and creation and implementation of both macro and micro economic development policies and programs.

05:25:47 Canadian Urban Institute: Regina Myer is President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a not-for-profit local development corporation that serves as the primary champion for Downtown Brooklyn as a world-class business, cultural, educational, residential, and retail destination. Prior to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Regina was the senior vice president for planning and design at the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, and the Brooklyn Borough Director for the New York City Planning Department. She received her BA and Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan, and resides in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

05:25:59 Canadian Urban Institute: Nick Griffin acts as the Downtown Center Business Improvement District’s Executive Director. Griffin manages the organization’s marketing, economic development and strategic initiatives, to attract companies, retailers, investors and residents to Downtown Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most dynamic urban centers.Prior to the DCBID, Nick spent more than 25 years in business development in the real estate, media and technology industries. Nick is a graduate of UCLA and holds an MBA from Ohio State University.

05:26:12 Canadian Urban Institute: Amahl Hazelton joined Moment Factory in 2009, and currently heads Strategy and Development for the multimedia studio’s ‘Cultural & Educational’ division. His experience in Digital Storytelling ranges from immersive, interactive exhibitions at the Museum of Science, Boston, the Canadian Museum of Nature and Paris’ Grand Palais, to cultural storytelling activations on flagship civic facades ranging from Vancouver’s iconic Canada Place Convention Centre to the National Arts Centre and federal Parliament in Ottawa to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. A graduate of McGill University’s School of Urban Planning with a specialization in Place Branding & Competitive Identity, Amahl has led the development of groundbreaking participative media installations that celebrate local, regional and national identity and engage the public with cultural and scientific content.

05:32:12 Catherine Deegan: very interesting content James !  all main streets are a cultural and artist canvases awaiting to be repainted

05:35:08 paul mackinnon: Go NM3!!

05:36:01 paul mackinnon: DT Vancouver will be hosting the Sept 2022 annual International Downtown Association conference – hopefully focused on post-pandemic downtowns!

05:36:33 James Lima: Sorry folks.  Somehow my connection dropped.

05:36:46 Cherie Klassen: I can’t wait to go to another IDA conference! I miss them.

05:37:30 paul mackinnon: We are also looking to add a day at that time for a Canadian BIA summit. Details to come.

05:39:47 Kristen Shima: curious to see how much engagement and involvement occurs with the artists and creatives overall understanding the social fabric and dynamics of their ecosystem to support the downtown ecosystem. gentrification occurs as a lifecycle… wonder if that is the case now (but land/real estate costs high, costs of living for creatives, etc.)

05:40:56 Sophia Symons: I wonder what jeopardized the safety of the other 8%?

05:47:17 Gelare Danaie: The best activation in Toronto was in my opinion the opening of lakeshore to bikes and pedestrian in weekends… we need to keep these amazing activation not just in the pandemic time but to make our cities more vibrant

05:49:52 paul mackinnon: We all have members who object to losing street space for drivers and parking. Interested to hear if any BIDs did pedestrian-friendly changes which they regret?

05:52:10 Mona Moreau: Hopefully people responsible for Toronto’s development are watching this!!!  Please reach out to our City staff to ensure they see these ideas i.e. get rid of parking spots and make larger sidewalks.

05:53:22 Laura Wall: I’d say the same for London ON

05:56:23 Cherie Klassen: @Paul, we took away parking spaces for sidewalk activation in 2020 and 2021. The first year we heard a bit of negative feedback from businesses, but upon surveying them and making some changes in 2021, it wasn’t much of an issue. the key was ensuring we had delivery and loading zones on each block. In our surveys after the project, visitors were least concerned about loss in parking. Interesting stats.

05:59:06 Gelare Danaie: This is amazing!

06:00:26 Judith Cox: Cherie, where are you from, I’m interested in promoting a project like this.

06:00:46 Tim Kocur: Ears are burning

06:00:53 Mary Pattion: Inspiring presentation Nick!

06:01:21 Mark van Elsberg: Removing parking is not always the end result.  Relocating parking is the key

06:01:30 Nick Griffin: DTLA/reimagined –

06:01:55 Alysson Storey: Nick – fascinating presentation. Your enthusiasm and energy are so refreshing! Thank you for sharing your expertise.

06:02:19 Nick Griffin: DTLA Virtual –

06:04:33 Cherie Klassen: @judith I’m in Edmonton, AB

06:05:46 Mark van Elsberg: By narrowing roads from one intersection to the next creates an opportunity to increase curb side parking  (Transportation requires a large space before parking is permitted if the lane is open (often 15 to 30.5m from the intersection) by expanding the boulevard (making the crossing safer) we creat opportunities for lay by’s or better seasonal parking on the boulevard.  This provides flexible parking areas that can be converted to patios seasonally.  the increased boulevard space also makes room for planting, street furniture, and bike share.  And traffic is calmed as a result with a reduction of illegal stopping at intersections

06:08:11 Philip Brown: Lighting adds a lot to downtown aesthetic value.

06:09:56 Alysson Storey: Love this ROE Amahl. Definitely requires a major shift in thinking from some of the powers-that-be but absolutely agree.

06:12:52 Cherie Klassen: Agreed Nolan! We’re doing the same with our municipality on patio permits. Now we know they can be nimble, we need to continue with that – and more.

06:13:40 Don Herweyer: Some great images. On the examples of crisis sparking innovation totally agree. After successful pilot we made permanent changes to City of Ottawa Zoning By-law to allow outdoor patios on private parking areas, resulting in much more flexibility and opportunity for small businesses to expand their services, and contribute to a vibrant streetscape in commercial areas and main streets.

06:13:56 Mona Moreau: Do you have any idea why Toronto cannot seem to provide a “pedestrians only” street or area?  I travel a lot around the world and EVERY city seems to have been able to provide “pedestrian only” streets or areas.  Do you have any suggestions for Toronto?

06:14:08 paul mackinnon: for one of the first times there were Fed and provincial placemaking programs open to BIAs to apply to. Will these continue? If not, we may see projects slide backwards this year.

06:16:12 Rachel Braithwaite: Agree @Paul funding for events in main streets and improved infrastructure is key

06:16:55 Cherie Klassen: Agreed also. We are not able to continue our expanded sidewalk program this year as there’s no funding for it.

06:17:03 Janice Wilder: In the summer Toronto has Kensington & Church St pedestrian on weekends, plus Wilcox in U of T is permanently pedestrian.  also, there are hundreds of local weekend festivals where streets are closed to cars.

06:17:18 Kay Matthews: Delighted that BIAs have been recognized by grants and funding, but core small infrastructure funding needs to be ongoing.

06:18:13 Mona Moreau: Yes, I’m very familiar with JW’s list.  But I don’t think that’s enough for a city like Toronto.

06:18:21 paul mackinnon: Particularly as BIAs will be facing decreased core budgets, as assessments decline in their areas.

06:19:47 Mona Moreau: I do think that Toronto seems to be a “car society” and we can’t get past that.  City councillors tend to be from the GTA and keep prioritising their cars.

06:21:10 Rachel Braithwaite: Infrastructure improvements are key to increase safety and walkability in our downtowns – we can’t depend on small business owners to fund this.

06:21:57 Janice Wilder: I agree that TO is too car centric, but much of this is driven by complaints from small businesses (the King pilot, the St Clair streetcar).  Any loss of parking generates huge outrage from local business.  So, how can we change their minds?

06:22:22 Deborah Ballinger-Mills: This has been a fascinating and inspirational two days. So glad I’ve had the opportunity to see and hear this conversation. Mary you rock! Thank you everyone.

06:22:23 paul mackinnon: Mark your calendars! Sept.21-23:

06:22:30 Catherine Deegan: Thank you everyone, great session

06:25:15 Kay Matthews: Join the Ontario BIA Association for our in person Conference April 24-27, 2022 in Niagara Falls.  “Keep Calm and Power ON”.  Conference Registration is now open.