Business Improvement Areas and the Justification of Urban Revitalization

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Daniel KUDLA, University of Guelph, Canada
Business Improvement Areas (hereafter BIAs; but also known as business improvement districts in the USA) have become a central feature of downtown revitalization across North America, Australia, Western Europe, and South Africa. Faced with limited funds to fuel urban revitalization, municipal governments now rely heavily on BIAs to manage urban spaces directly by taking on day-to-day tasks including security and crime control, beautifying city streets and sidewalks, and marketing the neighbourhood through various promotional and branding campaigns. As BIAs gained prominence throughout the early-to-mid 1990s, various perspectives in sociology, geography, and criminology attempted to provide a general framework to understand BIAs’ form and function. As I argue, the dominant conceptualization of BIAs, which often emphasizes BIAs’ pro-market neoliberal tendencies, creative cities agenda, and regulatory crime control logic, fails to take into account how active meaning-making processes shape justifications of their urban revitalization initiatives. Drawing upon qualitative data collected in London, Ontario – including interviews with BIA members, participant observation of city council debates, and document analysis of urban policies and BIA-produced materials – this study uses Boltanski’s “pragmatic sociology of critique” to show how BIA decision-making processes are the outcome of socially produced “orders of worth” based around morally configured “common goods”. This study intends to shed some light on how neoliberal urban policies are given meaning through cultural and social processes in particular grounded locations.