Vancouver’s Business Improvement Areas, they just aren’t what they used to be…

Lunch Meet HxBIA
Maybe you’ve seen the banners lining the street or you’ve noticed the distinct character of our various commercial districts. What gives them that unique charm or feel that makes them not just spaces, but places?
A very large part of it is the city’s Business Improvement Areas, or BIAs for short. There are 22 Business Improvement Areas in Vancouver working on behalf of and representing thousands of businesses and property owners throughout the city. From Collingwood to Point Grey and The Westend to East Hastings, our most famous commercial districts have been defined and promoted by BIAs, many of the city’s most iconic events have been created and sustained by them.
Regardless, the fact of the matter is that BIAs are a misunderstood entity and perhaps with good reason: we let our work speak for us. But that work has grown significantly in both complexity and scope throughout the past three decades to a point where you might be surprised (or glad, or thankful) to know the kinds of things BIAs are doing here in Vancouver.

The BIA concept was born in Toronto’s Bloor West Village when in the late 1960s the completion of an underground subway line that drew street traffic underneath and away from the commercial area. This significant change to the neighbourhood galvanized a group of concerned business leaders who approached the Province and the City to request that legislation be enacted compelling merchants to pay into a self-imposed taxing mechanism that would aid in the revitalization of the area.
In 1970, the City of Toronto passed bylaw # 170-70 and the first ever Business Improvement Area came into effect. Shortly after this, similar models appeared elsewhere. In 1981, New York State passed legislation allowing for the creation of Business Improvement Districts, followed by New York City passing laws to allow for the adoption of the concept in its five boroughs.
With the validation of New York implementing the concept, it didn’t take long before the model had spread around the world. It has been estimated that there are now  over 60,000 such BIAs, BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) or other BIA-like entities internationally (see Lorlene M. Hoyt, The Business Improvement District: An Internationally Diffused Approach to Revitalization), part of a broader movement to revitalize Downtown Areas that have been negatively affected by competition from shopping malls, big box stores or other factors, not exclusive to but particularly in North America.

In Vancouver, the first BIAs to be created were Mount Pleasant and Gastown, both in 1989.

Tour de Gastown photo by Kate Brown

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