Business Improvement Districts: Effective … but democratic?

Business Improvement Districts: Effective … but democratic?

BIDs in the US with AU headshotWagner College government professor Abraham Unger’s new book, “Business Improvement Districts in the United States: Private Government and Public Consequences,” will be published at the end of September by Palgrave Macmillan.

According to the publisher, the book examines how privatization has transformed cities, particularly through the role of business improvement districts in the revitalization of America’s downtown. These public-private partnerships between property owners and municipal government have developed retail strips across the United States into lifestyle and commercial hubs. BIDs are non-profit community organizations with the public power to tax and spend on services in their districts, but they are unelected bodies often operating in the shadows of local government.

They work as agents of economic development — but are they democratic? What can we learn from BIDs about the accountability of public-private partnerships, and how they impact our lives as citizens? Unger explores these questions of local democracy and urban political economy in this age of rampant privatization and the reinvention of neighborhoods.

“Abraham Unger’s penetrating examination of business improvements districts provides a long-overdue look at the theory and practice of growing reliance upon private-public partnerships in running American cities,” says Paul Kantor, professor emeritus of political science at Fordham University. “Probing how private partners of government actually behave once they take on governmental ambitions and purposes, he finds that their public spiritedness is often uneven and highly dependent on local leadership effort. It is a major contribution to our understanding of the new urban politics.”

Abraham Unger is an associate professor and director of urban programs in the Department of Government and Politics and a senior research fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. Unger is also a member of the Staten Island Borough President’s Strategic Policy Advisory Committee.