21st Century Planning and Downtown Organizations


  • The role business improvement districts, downtown development authorities and other quasi-governmental organizations play in public engagement and advancing the role of planning in communities.

  • The opportunities and challenges that arise when planning occurs among multiple organizations. 

  • Opportunities for municipalities to utilize BID-like organizations as partners in implementation. 


Downtowns across the country are experiencing a renaissance. Since the end of the great recession, urban centers have seen gains in population, jobs and economic generating activities. This growth not only benefits downtowns, but entire cities and metropolitan regions. Planning is a vital component to that trend, and in order to ensure continued growth and prosperity it is important planning remain front and center in the public discourse. To that end, business improvement districts, downtown development authorities and other quasi-governmental and non-profit place management organizations, which often lead or partner with municipalities to complete planning initiatives, are vital to the future health of our cities. This session will touch upon recently completed planning initiatives that embody this trend and provide lessons to planners on how to successfully manage plans being led by multiple organizations. The primary case study will be GR Forward, a comprehensive plan and investment strategy for Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan that outlines opportunities to utilize Downtown as an investment hub and economic generator for the City and the entire West Michigan Region.  The plan was completed through collaboration between Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), the City of Grand Rapids and several other partners. The session will include a presentation with representatives from the City, DGRI and the multi-disciplinary consulting team to give insight into the importance of collaboration across community leaders, provide an overview of the GR Forward process and outcomes, and offer lessons to other cities for utilizing organizations outside municipal government to advance planning raise the expectations for how plans should be done.