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This morning I returned to the office after a few days away at the Institute of Place Management’s biennial conference. After the standard return to work procedure of being horrified by how much paper had I left all over my desk, sifting through the emails that I couldn’t respond to on the fly, and attempting to coax the sad basil plant on my windowsill back to life I wanted to spend some time reflecting on the days beforehand.
At one point during the conference I put my hand up and asked a question which could possibly have been rephrased as ‘what is the point of this project?’ I realise that that could sound rude but it honestly wasn’t meant to be! I was attempting to figure out exactly what the raison d’etre of the project in question was, what were the end goals and how would anyone know if they had achieved them? After a little clarification, all became clear. A good proportion of the speakers at the event were practicing academics, a group of people who in are better than your average punter at defining their terms, and I think that is something that BIDs need to ensure they are doing day to day.
The front cover of the Cardiff BID business plan says, ‘even better to visit meet, study, work and invest’ which is a great starting sentiment but it’s important that we get a proper handle on what we mean by better before we start delivering projects. What ‘better’ means can be a tricky question for business improvement districts (as can what constitutes an ‘improvement’ to the ‘district’). A ‘better’ environment for a business in one unit may not be a better trading environment for their neighbour; it is important that BIDs take a broad view and consider their area as a whole when delivering their work.
The Cardiff BID business plan commits to using footfall figures, occupancy rates, car parking & crime data as well as an understanding of new business activity in order to measure whether things have indeed become ‘better’. Clearly the hope is that footfall and occupancy rates have a stronger performance, new businesses flourish and crime goes down. The team are also committed to annually surveying businesses and consumers as so much of people’s decision making tends to rest on perception rather than solid facts.
The BID doesn’t say yes to all the projects that are suggested to it, we turn things down if they don’t quite match up with our objects. Looking at projects we have delivered it is hopefully easy to see why they were approved: street cleaning and hanging baskets improve perception of the city centre, the sponsorship of events such as the Snowdogs Tails in Wales trail bring additional visitors and media exposure to the city and our bike clearance scheme increased the number of parking spots available making it easier for cyclists to enjoy the city. These projects all make something ‘better’, their outcomes are all ‘improvements’.