Downtown Improvement Blog

In Downtown Crossing, a rising tower lifts all boats


Boston’s historic downtown made a big impression on Irish tourists Mike and Brenda O’Brien.

“Our first trip to your lovely city was a revelation to us. The clean & tidy city is so easy to navigate (after a couple of days) and the transportation system is as good as any we have used. The people are friendly and welcoming,” the couple wrote in a letter to the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, singling out the organization’s paid “ambassadors” as being particularly friendly and helpful.

Rosemarie E. Sansone, president of the private nonprofit Downtown Boston BID, acknowledged that the Downtown rarely received such accolades in recent years. “It was always tired, beleaguered, down-trodden,” she said. “But now there’s great momentum. We want people to know that this place is coming back.”

The area’s momentum has been buildingf or months amid signs of an economic recovery and efforts among developers and city-based institutions to revitaliz eneighborhoods surrounding the city’s historic core, particularly the jumbled and more-shabby-than-chic shopping district known as Downtown Crossing.

The stalled redevelopment of the former Filene’s building has for years been emblematic of the area’s inability to turn the corner. Tourism officials, local business owners and the city all felt the impact since the project froze in late 2008.

Two years ago Emily Curran, executive director of the Old South Meeting House at 310 Washington St., was one of the local tourism officials who signed a lcttcr petitioning the city to do something — anything — to address the “crater,” as the development site was known. Those efforts finally paid dividends this year when the project’s majority ownership transferred to Millennium Partners of New York. Just this week the dcveloper received a green light from the Boslon Redevelopment Authority to build a new 625-foot tower.

More important than such symbolism, however, is the work being done to bring a new vitality to the area, particularly bythe Downtown Boston BlD, officials said.

“There’s such a strong group of people down in this area who are working together for all these goals: to make this area vital and welcoming. And thcir improvements have been noticed,” said Suzanne Taylor, executive director of the Freedom Trail Foundation. “It’s really revitalizedthe area.”

The Downtown 80ston BID, the firstbusiness improvement district in the city, started providing services in May 2011. The organization’s services include power-washing the sidewalks, removing graffiti and stickers, picking up trash and cleaning trash cans, as well as helping locals and visitors navigate the area and planning events. It’s responsibilities run geographically from Downtown Crossing to the city’s Ladder, Theater and Financial districts.

Since it started, its ambassadors, who work from 7 a.m. to 6  a.m. seven days aweek, have picked up 70 tons of trash and removed more than 4,000 stickers and graffiti tags, said Sansone; adding that since the organization’s launch, more than 40 new retail businesses have opened in the area and foot traffic has spiked more than 10 percent to around 250,000 daily visitors.

How to become the friendly district

Gain a reputation for being friendly

The more comfortable and welcome people feel in your district, the more likely they are to not only return again, but to tell others about their great experience.

Become known as a friendly district by following these best practices.

1. Hire for personality

Ambassadors are the single most important factor in making your improvement district more hospitable.

People with outgoing and caring personalities need only to be equipped with knowledge of the district to become excellent ambassadors.

2. Train to serve many “publics”

Consider the different “publics” your ambassadors will encounter and train them to identify and understand the needs and approach for serving each group.

Ambassadors will interact with visitors, residents, district workers, homeless persons, and businesses, each requiring something unique.

3. It begins and ends with parking

Because an unfriendly or disinterested parking attendant can ruin a great experience downtown, it is important that parking facility operating companies are committed to achieving the same customer service standards.

Provide initial and ongoing training to parking lot attendants to ensure they are able to adequately assist people.

Free hospitality guide

These strategies and more are discussed in detail in our free hospitality guide.

Improve your hospitality experience, make your stakeholders happy, and bring more visitors to your district with the new reputation you can build by implementing our strategies for hospitality. Download the hospitality guide to get started today.

Lancaster Ambassadors: Same but Different


My Lancaster News, a partner with Lancaster Online, reports that Downtown Lancaster has decided to expand their partnership with Block by Block. Under the new contract, Block by Block will be supporting both the clean and safe programs of the city’s Downtown Investment District.

Ambassadors will be cross-trained to perform cleaning functions as well as the security functions of the patrolling bike squad. Read more at My Lancaster News.

Photograph by Marty Heisey.

5 Safety Strategies from 5 of the Safest Cities in the World

Last month, we pulled cleaning strategies from 5 of the cleanest cities in the world. This time, let’s look at 5 of the safest cities in the world to figure out what they’re doing right.

Travel the globe with us once again to uncover 5 strategies for safety taken from 5 of the safest cities in the world.

1. Be available and visible like Vancouver, Canada.

Both Vancouver’s local police force and the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police work hard to be available and active throughout Vancouver. Citizens and tourists know they can easily find and rely on authorities who are dedicated to service, crime prevention and law enforcement.

Encourage the authorities in your district to be available and visible. Just having a law enforcement presence can have a big effect on criminal activity.

Block by Block Ambassadors are an active part of their districts everyday. Our programs help leverage the limited time of law enforcement officers in your district by directing them to specific situations and alerting them to trends. Your safety program can also integrate the efforts of law enforcement and security professionals in your district.

2. Be hospitable like Munich, Germany.

Munich’s slogan is, “Munich loves you.” Along with being available, authorities should be friendly and engage the people in their districts. Munich’s welcoming mantra has given authorities a contagious and hospitable charisma. Munich has reduced crime and increased quality of living largely with changing attitudes.

Efforts to be sociable and pleasant among your law enforcement could create a similar effect.

Block by Block recognizes the power of hospitality. Our Ambassadors specifically seek to find meaningful ways to improve someone’s district experience and focus on continual engagements to deliver smiles and greetings to as many people as possible.

3. Prioritize cleanliness like Tokyo, Japan.

Tokyo can attribute much of its high levels of safety to its high cleanliness. In Tokyo, cleanliness is considered public etiquette. Its citizens generally hold each other accountable to keep the city both clean and safe.

At Block by Block, we have seen time and time again how cleanliness directly correlates to safety. Neglecting low level issues such as litter, graffiti, weeds and overflowing trash cans sends a message to visitors that an area may not be well cared for or safe.

This is why Ambassadors remove graffiti as soon as possible, maintain landscaping before it’s overgrown, and actively remove litter and trash.

4. Create safety standards like Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik regularly passes safety standards to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors. For example, Dubrovnik motorways require enclosed service areas and gas stations, tunnels must be equipped with modern safety equipment, and traffic laws maintain a strict blood alcohol limit to reduce traffic accidents.

Even when government mandated safety standards like these are not the norm, creating a set of standards for your district can drastically reduce risk.

Consider pinpointing a couple safety challenges in your district. Reach out to Block by Block to assess those safety challenges and identify standards that could increase security and lower risk in those areas.

5. Create a culture of safety like Seoul, South Korea.

Seoul has several safety disadvantages, such as its dense population, large number of international residents, volcanic and tectonic activity, and less-than-friendly neighbor, North Korea. Despite these challenges, Seoul successfully created a culture of safety for its inhabitants and guests.

Like Seoul, establish safety as a norm of everyday living in your district. Start by identifying advocates of safety in your city and encourage them to connect and pursue safety awareness initiatives.

Block by Block Ambassadors can help you connect citizens, businesses and organizations and challenge them to focus on putting safety first and spreading their results. Increasing communication about safety can snowball into the culture of safety your district deserves.

Bonus Strategy: Look past your obstacles.

Each of these cities has experienced unsafe times of war, loss or turmoil. And each of these cities now ranks on several “Safest Cities” or “Best Cities to Live In” lists across the web.

These cities work hard despite difficult challenges in their pasts. Don’t hold on to your district’s specific trials and history. Look past those limitations and focus on creating a safer environment for your district.

Free Safety Guide

Download our free 360° Approach to Downtown Safety for Business Improvement Districts Guide to discover an overall strategy to improving safety and perceptions in your improvement district.

5 Cleaning Strategies from 5 of the Cleanest Cities in the World

What exactly are the cleanest cities in the world doing to keep their districts so clean?

Zoom out for a moment and discover 5 strategies for cleanliness taken from 5 of the cleanest cities in the world.

1. Think small like Singapore.

The city-state of Singapore maintains its cleanliness by considering the little things. Stickers in bathrooms remind citizens to always flush the toilet. Littering fines are high and well communicated. Chewing gum sales are forbidden to avoid gum stuck to public subway stations or benches.

While you probably won’t be outlawing chewing gum anytime soon, Singapore has established a high level of cleanliness with consistency in minor actions.

Every scrap of litter adds up. Small actions, like reminding the public to avoid dropping a straw wrapper on the sidewalk or tracking mud onto public transportation, can lead to big results.

2. Recycle well like Adelaide, Australia.

By emphasizing recycling, Adelaide drastically reduced their dependence on landfills, leading to a much cleaner living environment. The city encourages citizens to consider giving quality, unwanted items to charity and to urge each other to rely on the city’s recycling services.

Look into your city’s recycling options. Work with your city and neighboring cities to pursue more recycling initiatives and minimize waste.

3. Remove graffiti quickly like Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We are especially proud to see Minneapolis on so many “cleanest cities” lists, as Block by Block works hard everyday to keep the city clean. Minneapolis’ stance on vandalism and graffiti is to remove it within 24 hours. This reduces new graffiti and keeps areas looking welcoming.

Make it your goal to erase graffiti within 24 hours. Read more graffiti fighting techniques here or watch the video below to hear more from Minneapolis.

4. Aim for cleaner and more public transportation like Zurich, Switzerland.

Zurich citizens often choose to travel via public transportation. They have many options available including tram, bus, boat and train. Public transportation reduces carbon emissions by decreasing the number of individual cars in transit everyday. The city keeps their systems well kept and reliable.

You can encourage the use of public transportation by keeping your cities public transportation options as clean as possible. Create carpools to decrease carbon emissions.

5. Spread environmental awareness like Reykjavik, Iceland.

Reykjavik discovered that once it decided to implement green cleaning programs in its government, environmental efforts became a more attractive proposition in the local economy. Many businesses in Reykjavik now implement environmental policies to encourage employees to consider cleanliness in their everyday work and commutes.

Set a good example by establishing environmental awareness campaigns at in your district. A movement toward a cleaner city can only start with someone like you taking action and inviting others to join.

Along with these strategies, most cities that regularly rank on “cleanest cities in the world” lists have organizations working hard to prioritize efficient and effective cleanliness measures.

As a business improvement district, rally together and implement these 5 cleaning strategies to re-energize your city on cleanliness and how it can improve standard of living.

University of Cincinnati Introduces Safety Ambassadors


WKRC Cincinnati, Local 12, reports that University of Cincinnati introduces Safety Ambassadors to patrol the campus. The men and women in red jackets are not about making arrest, but will be looking out for the young people engaging in risky behavior and will be in direct contact with the police.

The goal of the new Safety Ambassadors is to change the community around the university. Read More at Local 12.

Downtown Ambassadors keep streets clean and visitors safe


Downtown Ambassadors fan out across the City of Cincinnati every day to help keep the streets clean, provide safety and provide help for those in need. The Ambassadors cover an 80-block area from Central Avenue to Eggleston Avenue, and Central Parkway to the Banks.

Ambassadors are responsible for much more than one might think at first glance. Each day, Ambassadors hit the streets as early as 5:00 a.m. to do surface cleaning, sweep sidewalks, collect garbage, clean bus stops, remove graffiti and illegal postings and keep the sidewalks clear of leaves, mud, snow, or any other natural debris.

“Ambassadors go above and beyond, and put the icing on the cake of services in Cincinnati,” says David Thomas, Director of Ambassador Services.  “There are Ambassadors touching every block face downtown. We want to make sure the city looks nice and is accessible before people arrive in the morning.”

Beyond cleaning, Downtown Ambassadors provide hospitality outreach such as navigation assistance and dining directions and recommendations. They try to identify visitors from out of town or those who appear unfamiliar with downtown, and offer directions, suggestions or simply a friendly hello.

If you are in an area of town that feels a little bit unsafe, there is nothing to worry about. Ambassadors are available through the Ambassador Hotline. Visitors can call the Hotline and a safety escort will lead them anywhere inside the improvement district within moments. Armed with police radios, Ambassadors make visitors to Downtown Cincinnati feel more secure when moving about the city.

“We’re another set of eyes and ears for the police,” Thomas said.

When in Downtown Cincinnati, you will notice the Ambassadors by their khaki pants and bright orange shirts with an “I” symbol, representing information during warm weather. When it’s cold outside, you will notice them wearing royal blue coats with glow-in-the-dark orange sleeves with the “i” symbol on their shoulder.

Read more at Soapbox Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of Andrew Walsh.