Reflections on the 2018 International Downtown Association Gathering

Each year, the International Downtown Association hosts its annual conference where Downtown thought-leaders and advocates from around the world gather to share their successes (and challenges) in revitalizing city centers.  This year’s event was held in Downtown San Antonio with the host team Centro San Antonio working with IDA staff and volunteers to organize an amazing three days of tours, plenaries, breakout sessions, and networking.


This year, three DHI team members attended not only to participate in the incredible learning experiences but also because we received another award for outstanding Downtown practices.  I’ve always thought recognition from your peer professionals is one of the surest signs of success.  Since DHI was formed in 2013, we’ve received an IDA Award for five straight years.

2014:  The Clinton Row Retail Incubator

2015:  The Downtown Open: Pop Up Putt Putt Experience

2016:  The Downtown Book Boxes (a Pinnacle Award which is the highest recognition given)

2017:  The Garage at Clinton Row Adaptive Re-Use Project

2018:  The Spragins Street Greenway and Cycle Track Connector

In addition to garnering great publicity for our Downtown, these types of awards provide confirmation that our work with partners like Downtown Storage, Crunkleton Commercial Group, the City of Huntsville, Arts Huntsville and more is executing at a high-level worthy of international recognition.

This year, I was also fortunate to participate on a panel focusing on Place Branding and why that is so critical to the success of your city center.  The panel was a big success with one of the largest crowds gathering to hear Place Branding experiences from Huntsville, Denver, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.  Our emphasis on developing an authentic Place Brand for the Rocket City Center is placing us among some great peer cities!

In terms of Downtown San Antonio, three observations stood out:

1.        Scooters were everywhere and were being used by both visitors and locals as a regular method of transportation.   San Antonio’s Mayor mentioned the importance of embracing these types of “disruptive” technologies in a deliberate and thoughtful way.  There was also a fascinating panel dedicated to this topic and how these electric two-wheelers are becoming an important addition to walking, biking, and motor-vehicling in Downtowns.  Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that scooters won’t become a normalized part of every thriving city center soon.


2.       The importance of creating interesting environments cannot be overstated.  In Downtown San Antonio, the Riverwalk, La Villita, Hemisfair Park, and the Pearl redevelopment project all highlighted this.  While they were certainly clean and safe (two foundational keys to success), they didn’t stop there.  Instead, each incorporated various types of creative placemaking (everything from signage to seating to public art) that enhanced the experience and made you want to linger and explore each of them deeper. 

3.       Indoor/outdoor dining is another item that can’t be overdone.  The Riverwalk is filled with abundant outdoor seating that cleverly accommodates the often-hot San Antonio with lots of natural and artificial shading.  The Downtown area has also embraced almost entirely outdoor spaces like The Luxury, Burleson Yard, and The Friendly Spot which all have little to no indoor seating.  This requires careful planning to accommodate the outdoor elements and each have done so in a stellar way.  We need several spaces like this around Downtown and Huntsville in general to further tap into Huntsvillians love of the outdoors including eating and drinking there.


One of the best ways to gauge your success and learn how to build upon it is to carefully study the best practices and lessons learned from your peer city centers.  This year’s IDA Annual Conference did an amazing job creating an environment where Downtowns of all sizes can gather the knowledge and tools to find even greater success!

Images: San Antonio, The Luxury, Burleson Yard, Friendly Spot, Scooters