Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) to counteract the far-reaching Business Improvement Districts(BIDS)!

Community Improvement District
It seems every district in New York City has a Business Improvement District, breezily referred to as BIDS. On the face of it, businesses wanting to improve their districts … it sounds so benign, right?

But as artist and activist Robert Lederman outlined in a previous entry Parks for Sale: Business Improvement Districts and the Privatization of our Public Spaces,” the BIDS don’t just stay on their side of the street. In Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, their tentacles spread far and wide, amidst the roots of the trees, up through the dirt or concrete, and busting out into our public spaces.

A new model, Community Improvement Districts(CIDS), works to protect, preserve and promote the well being of the community. The needs of the people are the primary concern, distinguishing the CIDS from the better known and financed groups known as BIDS, whose sole interest is to promote better business and an environment conducive to shopping.

At Union Square Park, the local BID, Union Square Partnership (co-chaired by restauranteur Danny Meyer), runs all the activities in the Park from clean-up to yoga! A significant down side is that they have unrestrained control over what happens at this public space (including cracking down on artists and free speech). Their latest plans to place a restaurant within the historic Pavilion have been met with community disapproval and outrage. It was design plans they initiated that led to fourteen old trees being chopped down for no reason, other than they were in the way of the design. (Apparently the idea of working them into the design was not considered). And our NYC Parks Department, under the aegis of Mayor Bloomberg, supports this, and further privatization of our parks.

It is part of a city-wide pattern. The city underfunds the park, pushes aside public funds and then brings in a BID and a few millionaire friends posing as saviors.

At Washington Square Park, the local BIDS(who have prominent positions on local Community Board 2), along with NYU and the Tisch Family, and with full support and implementation by Mayor Bloomberg and his Parks Department, have played a role in a redesign plan that is destroying the very heart of this beloved and historic Park.

The BIDS’ role in our communities needs to be lessened, not enlarged. The BIDS need to stay out of decision-making related to our public spaces. We need transparency and democracy. What we have in our city parks and public spaces is considerably removed from that at the moment. The Community Improvement District model works to change that and, instead of the well-being of Danny Meyer or NYU or Barnes & Noble, places the well-being of the community first.

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  1. Now that so many of our communities have been upended by the demands of profitability we have to formalize what was once just very normal, we have to put out community in terms corporate predators can understand. Thats why a CID is a good idea. Our challenge now is to teach the BID’s that they actually work FOR the CIDS.
    The original corporate charters in the United States demanded that corporations prove their value to the community at large in order to benefit from the advantages of incorporation. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

  2. Mitchel Cohen

     /  June 13, 2008

    CID is a fine idea.
    Maybe we can begin picketing Danny Meyers’ restaurant, and organizing a boycott of his establishments.

  3. Elizabeth Adam

     /  June 24, 2008

    Do you know that Hudson Square North, just north of Tri-beca on the Westside above Canal, is the lastest BID being formed? I think the idea of a CID to counteract the BID model, is a great idea. Where do I sign-up? This is just what we need. Most of my fellow citizens are outraged over the detruction of our city and parks. I hear about these problems from people in every borough and community in our city. The out-cry is getting louder by the day. Let’s get together, mobilize and take back our New York.

  4. cat

     /  June 24, 2008

    hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I agree that the out-cry is “getting louder by the day.” The CID model is just getting started but how to link people in the different neighborhoods together who want to do something similar is a good question.

    Let me talk to some of the organizers about that. It’s a big issue so, even though it’s urgent, we may have to take some small steps to get started.

    Did not know about the Hudson Sq North BID!


  5. John Cartwright

     /  June 28, 2008

    Here in Cape Town we are at present experimenting with a version of the Improvement District model that is dominated by local residents, with a minority involvement of local businesses. As in BIDs, we get our budget through a percentage added onto our rates and returned to us by the City Council. Because of our particular circumstances in South Africa, half of our budget goes on a contract with a security company to provide 24-hour walking/cycling patrols (the local station of the SA Police Service have enough to do trying to patrol the poorer and often more disorderly areas nearby). However, we are deliberately aiming to build a Code that requires us to invest part of our budget in effective projects in those very same areas (health, education, environmental action), with a clear regulatory-and-enabling framework for all our actions. Its about inclusive citizenship.
    We’ll keep you posted if you’re interested. Cheers, John Cartwright

  6. What an interesting discussion…. I live in central London (UK) where BID’s seem to be taking ‘control’ of large districts with the resident communities having no voice. Government and our borough councils support these BID’s and have seats on the BID boards yet the resident community receives little or no communication or consultation whatsoever on BID proposals in the area.

    If BID’s do not change the way they relate to the resident communities they will find the backlash from the resident communities very expensive to deal with.

    I like what SavitriD says above: . “Our challenge now is to teach the BID’s that they actually work FOR the CIDS.
    The original corporate charters in the United States demanded that corporations prove their value to the community at large in order to benefit from the advantages of incorporation. That seems pretty reasonable to me.”

    The areas in London I refer to are mapped here:

  1. Event: Walking Tour: Washington Square Park Past, Present and Future - A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space, Saturday, June 28th « Washington Square Park
  2. Event: Walking Tour - Washington Square Park: Past, Present, and Future: A Guide to NYC’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space « Washington Square Park
  3. Parks For Sale: Business Improvement Districts and the Privatization of Our Public Spaces « Washington Square Park
  4. Mayor Bloomberg, Part II - The Blanding of New York City « Washington Square Park
  5. Walking Tour: Washington Square Park - A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space, Saturday, September 20th « Washington Square Park

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