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Program Profile: Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Philadelphia (Pa.)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on May 25, 2011

Program Summary

A nonprofit organization created by neighborhood property owners or merchants to provide services, activities, and programs to promote local improvements and public safety. The program is rated Promising. There was a significant reduction in property crime and thefts compared to the control areas and no crime displacement.

Program Description

Program Goals
A Business Improvement District (BID) is a nonprofit organization created by neighborhood property owners or merchants to provide services, activities, and programs to promote local improvements and public safety. The BID is a discrete geographical area, and all property owners or merchants within that area are charged an assessment to fund BID–determined services and activities. The amount of the assessment largely depends on what the BID collectively decides are the activities that will best meet its priorities. More than a thousand BIDs have been formed in communities nationwide.

Services Provided
In areas where problems such as crime and disorder are evident, BIDs represent a means for facilitating collective action. Through levied assessments, BIDs enable groups of property owners to pool their resources and contribute to the cost of services that they may not be able to afford by themselves.

BID expenditure is largely dedicated to paying for services that contribute toward improvements to the outside environment of the locale in which they are situated. Such services include security patrols, maintenance of sidewalks, graffiti removal, marketing of local businesses, parking and transportation management, and capital improvements, such as improved lighting. The precise package of services contracted by any one BID will vary, as the services selected should be tailored for local problems. These activities are intended to have positive effects on crime and disorder and the prosperity of area businesses.

Program Theory
Studies that have evaluated BIDs discuss numerous relevant theories of crime causation, including broken windows theory, opportunity theories, social disorganization theory, and collective efficacy, as well as theories of collective action.

Additional Information
BIDs have often been viewed as a way to compete with suburban shopping malls and thus as a useful tool for urban revitalization. The formation of a BID is voluntary, but there can be a legal process associated with their establishment. They are usually chartered by State legislation, and local governments regulate them. Pennsylvania’s BID–enabling legislation is among the oldest in the Nation, having its roots in a 1935 law that allowed the formation of municipal authorities. The Pennsylvania Municipality Authorities Act of 1945, amended in 1980, provided for the creation of autonomous financing authorities, such as BIDs. The first BID became operational in 1991.

BIDs usually are chartered for a specific timeframe, such as 5 or 10 years, but BIDs often request reauthorization. For instance, most Philadelphia, Pa., BIDs have 5-year term limits, but all have requested reauthorization and none have been dissolved. Philadelphia’s BIDs together govern 872 blocks. Often, an advisory committee of property or business owners provides governance to the organization. It is not unusual for BIDs to partner with local police departments in formal arrangements. Representatives of BIDs also provide a unified voice in interactions and negotiations with politicians and municipalities.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Property crime and thefts
Hoyt (2005) found that property crimes and thefts showed significant reductions in BID areas compared with those in non-BID areas (5.0 percent reduction in BIDs, compared with 2.3 percent in control areas).

Displacement of crime
No differences in crime were found between the buffer areas of BIDS, compared with control areas.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Hoyt (2005) used a quasi-experimental design with nonequivalent groups to assess the effect of BIDs on crime in commercial areas and to determine whether BIDs pushed crime into adjacent residential neighborhoods. Linear discriminant analysis was used to identify the variables that separated BIDs from non-BIDs. The analysis involved a range of sociodemographic neighborhood measures (e.g., population density, owner-occupied housing, African American population) and crime measures (e.g., stolen vehicles, thefts from vehicles, property crimes, burglaries).

The sample consisted of 212 BID intervention blocks, which were randomly sampled from a possible total 872 BID blocks in Philadelphia, and 212 non-BID control blocks. Most of the BIDs were implemented well before the time of the study, though some were implemented 1 year into the 4-year period of the study. Data was obtained from Census and police records for a 4-year period.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Hoyt, Lorlene M. 2005. “Do Business Improvement District Organizations Make a Difference? Crime In and Around Commercial Areas in Philadelphia.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 25:185–99.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Hoyt, Lorlene M. 2004. “Collecting Private Funds for Safer Public Spaces: An Empirical Examination of the Business Improvement District Concept.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 31:367–80.

Stokes, Robert J. 2006. “Business Improvement Districts and Inner City Revitalization: The Case of Philadelphia’s Frankford Special Services District.” International Journal of Public Administration 29:173–86.
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Community Awareness/Mobilization, Community Crime Prevention , Situational Crime Prevention, General deterrence

Current Program Status: Active

Lorlene Hoyt
Department of Urban Studies and Planning Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 9–528
Cambridge MA 02139
Phone: 617.997.3720