This month I want to take a break from the interview series that I have been writing about Downtown SLO personalities. It is not because the series has not been fun to write but simply because I have something that I would like to share about a recent trip to New York City. You see, there are many trips that I have been on that left me with fond memories and arguably changed my life, however, this trip to NYC will be one of the few professional trips that I will reflect on years later and recall how it shaped my life.
In late June, the International Downtown Association hosted a week long program for 26 emerging leaders from around the world with an emphasis on more effective downtown management. This was to be the first cohort of the Emerging Leaders Fellowship (ELF) of which I was privileged to be a part of. The program included training about leadership styles and better understanding how to work in teams, Public Private Partnerships (P3), urban place-making, financial analysis of a downtown and current trends in the industry. I realize that on paper that may seem pretty boring to many people but trust me, downtown folks love this stuff and the people in the program amplified its positive energy.
So the question on your mind could be, “What was so special about this particular trip?” Lucky for those of you with that obvious question, I am happy to explain just why it was such an empowering trip. When you take a small city like San Luis Obispo and you place it next to a much larger New York City, it doesn’t really seem like there could be commonalities. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The similarities are many and occur on different scales. Both cities are obsessive about public space, host tourists from all around the world, struggle with a balance of locally owned and commercial entities, are seeking solutions to homelessness and are walkable/bikeable communities.
There are many differences as well but those are not what changed my perspective during this trip. As part of our ELF training, we were sent out into the streets of various boroughs to study everything from parklets, gentrifying neighborhoods, public parks and the overall downtown economies. The work we did as smaller teams showed me a bright future of colleagues that are as deeply passionate about the places known as downtown. Teamwork is the future of downtowns across the country and that includes the team work of our local government, property owners, business owners and people like you.
I have known that teamwork is essential for progress for a long time but sitting at a round table in a park that was literally a roadbed just a few short years ago with a team of my cohorts was a glimpse at what we can have in SLO. It took New York years to get where they are through collaborative partnerships but it was worth it. When I see how many of you participated in the Downtown Concept Plan and Mission Plaza Master Plan workshops I know that the best is yet to come. Downtown SLO is excited to announce that this month we are offering yet another opportunity for you to be a part of the team that plans our future.
On August 10th you are invited to join Downtown SLO for the exclusive screening of Urban Century: America’s Return to Main Street at the Fremont Theatre. This feature length documentary will start at 7 PM and runs just over an hour, once it concludes we will be hosting a panel discussion about Downtown SLO. This event will kick off a series of open community conversations that we hope will bring all of our Downtown fans out to share why they love Downtown SLO, what they hope to see in the future and problems they want to address. This is your Downtown SLO, our association is inviting you to come and have some honest discussions about our community center. Not because we are facing a crisis or due to a major problem but because Downtown is growing, our programs are expanding and the needs of the community are changing. The event is free to attend for the public with the proceeds from beverage sales benefitting our programs.
If there was one take away from the ELF program it was this, downtowns belong to the people who use them and are created by the visions of key partnerships over time. I sincerely hope that you will join us at the historic Fremont Theatre to see the film and change the way you look at Downtown. Let it draw you in and become involved with the evolution of one of this country’s greatest Main Streets, our Main Street.