Business Improvement Areas in Metro Vancouver: The Convergence of Economic Development and Social Responsibility

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Schaal, Darin G.
business improvement areas , social issues , economic development , survey
In Experiential Planning: A Practitioner’s Account of Vancouver’s Success, Jill Grant draws attention to the intervolution of social issues and urban planning and specifically the role of Vancouver’s “ambitious social agenda” in transforming the city into a place now commended for its livability. This transition in Vancouver over the last twenty (plus) years indicates a place for social planning in community building and urban development. In 1988, about the same time Vancouver began implementing the planning policies, practices, and strategies that would later be recognized as factors in establishing its reputation as a livable city, the province passed Business Improvement Area (BIA) legislation. At that time, and even now, BIAs across the province are typically formed to address a range of issues concerning community and economic development. Certainly the mitigation of social issues is an emerging role, but one that remains subordinate. In Vancouver, however, a city that planners consider “the exemplar of a modernist city that attempts to be socially inclusionary” (Grant, 2009, p. 359), social issues have tended to carry more clout with municipal planners and policy-makers. Nearby municipalities, on the other hand, including those that comprise the Greater Vancouver Regional District, do not necessarily share the same progressive outlook on social issues. The hypothesis that motivates this inquiry then is BIAs—uniquely positioned among the key actors in the public, private, and voluntary sectors in the community—to some degree, likely reflect the city’s zealous social plan. Whether this hypothesis is valid, and whether or not the effect occurs across the metropolitan region, are telling indications of the overall effects of municipal social policy on the economic development objectives of BIAs.
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