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What We're Reading

Stay current on the latest books and articles related to downtown management. IDA thought leaders and Research Committee members select the industry's best reads and have prepared reviews. Click the title for the complete review.

Off the Books

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor

Review by: Claudia Freeland Jolin, Director, Economic Development, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore

In 2008, Baltimore commissioned a study called “Baltimore Neighborhood Market Drilldown” to measure the untapped buying power and retail leakage due to many inner-city neighborhoods participating in the underground economy. The study provided an objective, systematic analysis of business attributes in the underground economy but only touched about the anthropology of the community. I wanted to learn more, so I picked up Sudhir Venkatesh’s Off the Books.



Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Review by: Steven Welliver, Deputy Chief Executive, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.

In 2008, at the height of the nationwide housing crisis and economic recession, sociologist Matthew Desmond moved into a Milwaukee trailer park on the verge of a court mandated closure. Over the course of the next few years, he followed eight families as they faced eviction after eviction in some of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. Desmond also shadowed a handful of landlords and property managers to more fully explore the causes and consequences of eviction and prevent bias toward the tenant perspective. The collective results of his fieldwork are chronicled in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, for which he was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in the general nonfiction category.


New Urban Crisis

The New Urban Crisis

Review by: Dewitt M. Peart, President & CEO, Downtown Austin Alliance

In The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), Richard Florida argued that the key to urban success was to attract and retain talent, not just companies. (Incidentally, talent recruitment and retention is a top issue facing urban districts.) It was a break from the prior thinking that was based on the belief that companies and jobs drew people. Since then, economic development assumes that employers are attracted to the places where talent clusters. The most successful urban areas, according to his thinking, would be those with the 3 Ts of economic development: technology, talent and tolerance.


Lariza Ortiz

Start-up Downtown: Lessons from an Innovator

Review by: Faith Broderick, IDA Research Associate and Aylene McCallum, Director, Downtown Environment, Downtown Denver Partnership

Gabe Klein, the former director at Washington DC’s Department of Transportation and Chicago’s Department of Transportation began his career in the trenches of two nascent startups; one being a food truck company and the other being Zipcar. It is with this entrepreneurial spirit and passion for innovation that Gabe forged ahead, leading both Washington DC and Chicago’s transportation departments to implement emerging transportation infrastructure and technology at a pace normally reserved only for the private sector.


Lariza Ortiz

Advocating on Behalf of the Profession

Review by: Larisa Ortiz, Principal, Larisa Ortiz Associates, & IDA Board Member

Over the last thirty years, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have been lauded as useful and practical tools for improving our downtowns. Yet recently, they have come under attack from opponents who increasingly blame BIDs for rapid community change, i.e. “gentrification.” They say BIDs not only place an unfair financial burden on small businesses, they also prioritize the interests of property owners over all other players. These arguments have been floating around for quite some time, but there seems to be an uptick in not-so-positive coverage these days.


The ABCs of Site Selection

Social Equity Benefits the Downtown Economy

Review by: Maureen Atkinson, Senior Partner, Urban Marketing Collaborative

Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA), the company that has been able to accurately point to the most important trends affecting downtowns in the past 10 years, has done it again. This article is a follow up on their widely acclaimed whitepaper, 2014 Global Trends Affecting Downtowns Report. “Social Equity Benefits the Downtown Economy,” does a deeper dive into an important theme for all downtown professionals, the issue of making downtowns welcoming for everyone, not just the wealthiest residents.


The ABCs of Site Selection

Quantifying our Downtown Home: Downtown Practitioners’ Review of AARP’s Livability Index

Review by: Larisa Ortiz, Principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates and Kris Larson, CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids

Is your community a “great neighborhood for all ages?” That’s what AARP wants you to find out using a new “Livability Index,” which scores neighborhoods and communities’ across the US for the services and amenities that make for a good place to live. AARP states that as the U.S. population ages, people will benefit from a tool to help them figure out a place to land in retirement, and communities will need a tool to design interventions that will better meet the needs of an aging population.


The ABCs of Site Selection

The ABC's of Site Selection: Finding the Perfect Downtown Retail Site

Frank Raeon

Review by: Davon Barbour

Effective retail recruitment requires tenacity, perseverance, and a strong understanding of the fundamentals of retail site selection. As downtown practitioners, we very well recognize the fierce competition that exists from suburban retail locations.


assignment detroit

Assignment Detroit

Time, Inc.

Review by: Midge McCauley

Time Inc.'s prolific "Assignment Detroit" project resulted in a series of 55 stories published in TIME, Fortune, People, Money and several of its other periodicals; produced nearly 200 on-line articles; presented 46 video stories on CNN; and yielded more than 750 posts to TIME's Detroit Blog.


city guidebook

City: A Guidebook to the Urban Age

P.D. Smith

Review by: Maureen Atkinson

In the past year, the major urban event that has happened is that 50% of the world’s population is now estimated to live in cities. This event seems to have brought on the publication of a number of new books celebrating the city. “City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age” is one of these publications that seeks to help the reader really understand the city.



"Cool Cities" Indicator Measures Millenial Migration

Brookings Institute

Review by: Brad Segal

The premium placed on education, talent and jobs looms large for downtowns as a new trend in our recent Global Trends REVISITEDupdate. Due to changes in the economy converging with shifting demographics, the United States is looking at shortages of skilled workers before the end of the decade.



Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

Steven Johnson

Review by: Carrie Gartner, PhD

How do some areas of a city become known as restaurant row while others sprout art galleries? How has Florence maintained a single street devoted to silk sellers, even as the buildings along it have been torn down and replaced multiple times? How did New York City develop both a diamond district and a button district?


end of suburbs

The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving

Leigh Gallagher

Review by: Kristopher Larson

With a title that sounds like a classic horror film from the 1960s, Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Movingis less a Kuntsler-esque doomsday scenario and about the slow and steady progression of forces that are transforming population dynamics within American cities than the title might suggest. While most Downtown practitioners are familiar with the middle class flight of the 1950s-1970s that created the imperative for our industry, The End of the Suburbs also explores the pre-text of the flight by compiling and analyzing the various social, political, and economic considerations that gave the flight its wings.


for the love of cities

For the Love of Cities: A Love Affair between People and their Places

Peter Kageyama

Review by: Davon Barbour

For the Love of Cities: A Love Affair between People and their Places explores the emotional bond that exists between people and their built environment. Author Peter Kageyama advocates that cities that generate a greater emotional connection with their residents benefit socially and economically.


gen buy

GEN BUY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail

Kit Yarrow & Jayne O'Donnell

Review by: H. Blount Hunter

GEN BUY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail is highly recommended to Downtown professionals, marketers, and retailers as a primer on the impact of a youthful generation on culture, fashion, social trends, and the world of retailing.


great inversin

The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City

Alan Ehrenhalt

Review by: H. Blount Hunter

The Great Inversion looks at a broad social change—often called “gentrification” at the neighborhood level—that could redefine the urban landscape in the U.S. Alan Ehrenhalt describes the movement of affluent, creative people from suburbia into central cities as a broad-based trend that is causing American cities to more closely resemble traditional European cities and great cities around the world.


the economist

Hard Times: How the economic slowdown has changed consumer spending

The Economist

Review by: Maureen Atkinson

In a short, easy-to-read article titled - Hard Times - How the economic slowdown has changed consumer spending in America, The Economist has captured a lot of data and made it understandable. The data is based on releases from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which can be considered the gold standard in terms of data assurance.


hot flat and crowded

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Thomas L. Friedman

Review by: Stan Skalka, President, Victor Stanley, Inc.

Thomas L. Friedman is an acknowledged expert on the Middle East, energy, and the environment. He lectures and writes prolifically and pens a frequent column on the op-ed page of the New York Times. This carefully researched book guides the reader through the pressing threats to the world environment.


Infinite City Cover

Infinite City, A San Francisco Atlas

Rebecca Solnit

Review by: Bill Dietrich, President & CEO, Downtown Council of Kansas City

David Byrne of Talking Heads and New York arts scene fame once said in his 1986 movie True Stories (and I paraphrase), ‘sometimes you have to leave a place for awhile to be able to see it again as it really is, with fresh eyes and new perspective’. Later at a suburban mall he ironically reflects on the abandonment of our Downtowns for easy parking, ‘what time is it? No time to look back.’ But we need to look back, to remember where we’ve been, how we came to be and who we are. To experience something new in our Downtowns we need to explore them from differing perspectives, through multiple lenses and filters.


keep america beautiful

Littering Behavior in America: Results of a Keep America Beautiful National Study

Keep America Beautiful

Review by: Maureen Atkinson

For anyone who is looking for statistics on littering, this is an important resource. Its methodology is scientific including both observational research as well as interviews. This split methodology is important because littering is not socially acceptable so what people say in interviews and what they do in practice can be very different.



A Management Framework for Downtowns and Commercial Districts

M. Bradley Segal

Review by: Scott C. Schuler

It is significant that humankind inherently understands how cities need healthy downtowns. This may be such a natural instinct on our parts that few people question it, except for those whose individual sense of frustration have led them to throw in the towel. The advantages provided by an urban heart, a central gathering place have been extensively studied over the years.


Portas Review

The Portas Review

Mary Portas

Review by: Jamie Licko, Centro Inc.

In May 2011, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced an initiative to undertake a comprehensive national review of the UK’s city centers (more commonly referred to as “the high street”). Cameron’s announcement of the review came on the heels of the Government’s removal of regional development authorities and the some £2 billion of funding and support they had been injecting into local governments and economies to encourage town center management and growth.


downtown idea exchange

Revising Downtown Efforts for Post-Recession

Charles Eckenstahler

Review by: Scott Schuler

Trite though it sounds, the wise should be planning for the Post-Recession economy now. The current downturn is dragging on so long that sometimes the thought burrows into our minds that current conditions are normal and things will be like this for a long time.



Superior Achievement in Design & Imaging Awards

Retail Traffic Magazine

Review by: Midge McCauley

DESIGN MATTERS! And, it matters a lot. The design of a storefront, the signage package and window display are what draw customers into a store. The merchandise, inventory organization and display, and the look and feel of the store’s interior keep the visitor inside. The longer a shopper stays in the store, the greater the likelihood of making a sale.


Top 10 Global Trends

PUMA's Top 10 Global Trends Affecting Downtown and How to Respond

Progressive Urban Management Associates

Review by: Carrie Gartner

For a little perspective I pulled out all the Global Trends reports I had received from PUMA, starting in 2006. It came as no surprise that the good folks at PUMA and the University of Colorado, Denver have been right on target in their analysis. For the last 8 years they’ve alerted us to growing trends towards diversity, health care, technology and education, the rise of women, entrepreneurship, the millennial generation, and sustainability (particularly in regards to transit, traffic, and walkability).


triumph of the city

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

Edward Glaeser

Review by: H. Blount Hunter

Triumph of the City, by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, is based on a premise well-understood by IDA members: cities are the original and most enduring “social networks.” Long before Facebook and Linkedin, people who gathered in cities could share ideas and innovations.Cities are fertile environments for creativity.


walkable city

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

Jeff Speck

Review by: Davon Barbour Director of Community & Economic Development, City of Hollywood, Florida

A take back our streets movement is well underway in the United States. Jeff Speck’s Walkable City is an enjoyable journey into understanding why walkability matters to the success of downtown and the broader community.


walk the walk

Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Home Values in U.S. Cities

Conducted by Joe Cortright; Commissioned by CEOs for Cities, President & CEO Carol Coletta

Review by: Tamara Zahn

I found this recent study Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S Cities interesting. It helps advocate -- and quantify-- that Downtown living is a good investment, not just fun! Walkable Downtowns contribute to individual wealth by increasing the asset of most individuals' biggest asset.


wrestling with moses

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City

Anthony Flint

Review by: Scott Shuler

When I was in sixth grade our class trip was to the 1964-1965 World's Fair in New York. I read all I could about the Fair and kept seeing the name of Robert Moses. It was therefore easy to conclude that he single-handedly built the Fair and much else in New York City. Bridges, highways, parks, Lincoln Center, Shea Stadium, the UN Building. person could do all that?


Core Values

Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown

Review by: Aylene McCallum, Director of Downtown Environment at Downtown Denver Partnership

The report outlines a list of qualities that companies are looking for in a downtown, noting that these qualities, “can almost be used as a competitive checklist for localities.” These qualities shouldn’t be a surprise to most downtown practitioners. Qualities noted in the report like walkable, live/work/play neighborhoods; convenient transportation options; clean, safe streets; and economic development are the legs that our organizations are built upon. This focus on walkable downtowns is, in fact, not isolated to downtowns – but that walkable, transit-oriented suburban locations are also receiving attention from businesses looking to relocate.


America in 2015

America in 2015: A ULI Survey of Views on Housing, Transportation and Community

Review by: Nicholas Martinez, AICP Manager, Applied Research + Analytics for the Miami Downtown Development Authority

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently released a comprehensive report covering Americans’ views of their neighborhoods and quality of life. As we build our downtowns, it is imperative that downtown practitioners gain knowledge and perspective of the preferences our residents have for the future of their communities. America in 2015 provides rich information and nuanced perspectives that we can use to inform the decision-making process as we plan our downtowns for economic development programs, retail attraction strategies, residential development, arts & culture amenities, and transit/mobility options.



More Reads by Topic

Downtown Management / BIDs

A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities

Managing Growth in America's Communities: Second Edition

Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life

A Guide to Impact Fees and Housing Affordability

Business Improvement Districts and the Shape of American Cities

Business Improvement Districts: Research, Theories, and Controversies

Making Business Districts Work: Leadership and Management of Downtown, Main Street, Improvement District, and Community Development Organizations

BIDs: Business Improvement Districts, Second Edition

Boards That Make a Difference

The Consensus Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement

How to Make Meetings Work

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action


Office Worker Retail Spending Patterns: A Downtown and Suburban Study

Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development

Urban Design

Creating a Vibrant City Center: Urban Design and Regeneration Principles

Waterfronts: Cities Reclaim Their Edge

Great Streets

Creating Vibrant Public Spaces: Streetscape Design in Commercial and Historic Districts

Parking & Transportation

Development Around Transit: Strategies and Solutions that Work

Tourism, Conventions & Sports

Developing Sports, Convention, and Peforming Arts Centers


Better Places Better Lives: A Biography of James Rouse

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York


Public/Private Finance Development: Methodology, Deal Structuring, Developer Solicitation


Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities


Marketing Places


Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950

General Interest

The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it's transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life

The Devil in the White City

Cities on the Rebound: A Vision for Urban America

Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown

Edge City: Life on the New Frontier

Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

The Wealth of Cities: Revitalizing the Centers of American Life

Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

City: Rediscovering the Center

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community