Meet the IPM: Alison Karim-McSwiney

Alison Karim-McSwineyAlison Karim-McSwiney, Member of the Institute of Place Management, is the Executive Director with the International Avenue Revitalization Zone (INTAVE BRZ) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is a graduate of the University of Calgary and is certified as an International Place Manager (UK). She has 20 years of experience as a place manager and is the recipient of many awards. Her recent successes include securing land for an art centre and $176 million for the multimodal redesign and infrastructure improvements along the business high street with affordability and inclusivity as key components. Alison has been instrumental in bringing innovative community initiatives to International Avenue. The Calgary Herald chose her as a one of the top New Mavericks of Alberta.


Alison Karim-McSwiney, you are the executive director of International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ). What is International Avenue and what do your tasks involve?

Alison Karim-McSwiney: As the founding Executive Director my tasks have been pretty much everything. Planning, marketing, crime prevention, special events, member relations, place-making, development, business retention, recruitment, non-profit management, community advocate, fund developer and innovator. International Avenue is a primary goods area with over 415 businesses which range from multinationals to small family run shops.


You have worked for International Avenue for two decades now. Do you find that your challenges have changed significantly? How has your worked evolved over time?

Alison Karim-McSwiney: When I was first hired, I remember thinking how on earth can I market a place, which is crime-ridden, where the area is so marginalized and the problems prolific. Our initial strategy was to bring the community together with a large event to show pride. Work to create business crime prevention programs including the very first business block watch in Western Canada. The infrastructure was substandard and it became apparent that this area was not a priority for the municipality. The City, pretty much in my mind, was ghettoizing the area. Anything that would be controversial in other parts of the City often slipped in here unchallenged. Pro-liferation of negative uses was prevalent.

“International Avenue is a primary goods area with over 415 businesses which range from multinationals to small family run shops.”

We went about the task of reviewing planning documents that ruled the area and found because the area was huge, over 35 blocks (4 Km) and with a population of 50,000 residents along the borders of the street, that the documents were out dated, or non-consistent and in some parts of the long strip, non-existent. No cohesive document existed for street as a whole. On further examination, the main plan for the street the City had going forward was to essentially turn it into a high-speed roadway which would cut off the access of residents to the businesses with a plan of over 26 road closures thus largely eradicating businesses at the same time. In discussing this with City officials, we were told that our area was not on the radar and that no planning help would be available. The Board of Directors proved to be a benevolent bunch, which allowed my Team to tackle the social issues, as well as the myriad of other issues, affecting our business area.

“Our group decided to “put the forest in Forest Lawn” with a tree planting project of 300 trees along the street.”

We took small steps to get us there. A landscape plan and strategy to move us to the ultimate vision of the area was created in the ‘90’s. The municipality was not supportive of our initial plan as it went against theirs. Ours embraced walkability- in many cases proper sidewalks were not even existent currently, public spaces, site amenities etc. The true irony was that the community was named Forest Lawn but no trees or landscaping were present due to the City’s plan to widen the road. Our group in turn, decided to “put the forest in Forest Lawn” with a tree planting project of 300 trees along the street. We had to sign a 30 day removal clause in case the road widening took place but we decided to risk this as the financing for such a road project was not in the cards for decades.


You have created the series of events, “Around The World Food Tours”. Why was the goal of this event? What is it and what effect has it had? How has your experience been so far?

Alison Karim-McSwiney: We started developing community and increased the business profitability with events, worked on crime prevention strategies, marketed as a multicultural area where you could “go Around the World in 35 Blocks” just by visiting our street. I remember people telling me they did not wish to go into a business, as they were obviously “gang” members. This was not true of course, but the stigma of the culture was hard to reverse.

Around the World Food Tour took visitors to our area on a world travel experience without leaving the City.”

I decided to test market an idea in 1997 that would allow people to safely meet the shopkeepers and learn about their products. I called it “Around the World Food Tour” which promised to take visitors to our area on a world travel experience without leaving the City. We treated our new customers as tourists playing up the fun of it. A bus toured around our area and I hired celebrities to educate the group as a tour operator about the culture we were visiting in each store. Our tour took people to Jamaica, Vietnam, Lebanon, Portugal, India and Germany in a four-hour timeframe. We tried prepared food samples at each location and explained how the different products on the business shelves of each location could be used. Meeting the shopkeeper who was ever so pleased to welcome them really worked magic. Not surprisingly, people loved it. Passengers were given coupons to spend; recipes to try later, which we hoped, would bring them back. So now some 20 years later the tours take place monthly or 12 times a year and are sold out within 24 hours of being placed on the website. The best possible type of advertising- that being “word of month” advertising means we do not even have to advertise anywhere else than our own website. People spend money, have been frequenting the stores and have given us the reputation of the area for ethnic speciality food items. It was the first event of its kind in Canada, created in 1997 and still going strong. A resounding success! Sold out within 24 hours of posting new dates.


What other goals has International Avenue pursued and how successful have you been?

Alison Karim-McSwiney: Now we still never lost sight of the ultimate goal to upgrade the infrastructure and created an award winning visionary document entitled “Envisioning International Avenue”. We did this by partnering with the University of Calgary Environmental Design Faculty. We convinced them into creating the ultimate classroom real world experience. A multi-disciplinary class consisting of social workers, architects, urban planners, transportation engineers, historians etc. took a full semester of International Avenue thus immersing them in our issues. The resulting document won a Charter Award from the Congress of New Urbanism as the plan proposed Transit Oriented Development (TOD), mixed use and a new way to look at the area. After the award was won, we took to lobbying politicians, creating lots of media buzz and what we are proposing the international community recognized as outstanding planning.

“Our philosophy was that the area was substandard to begin with requiring government funding and that as an affordable community, it was imperative to not gentrify to a level that would remove what made the area unique, that being a landing area for immigrants to realize their dream of setting up a business.”

Then the wheels went into motion. The City put resources into action to review and create a plan similar to ours. In 2011, the SE17 Land Use and Urban Design Plan was approved as the way forward. Unfortunately, no funding was available and we did not want to charge our landowners, through a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) model, to build the necessary infrastructure changes. Our philosophy was that the area was substandard to begin with requiring government funding and that as an affordable community, it was imperative to not gentrify to a level that would remove what made the area unique, that being a landing area for immigrants to realize their dream of setting up a business. So now in 2017, over 176 million dollars of public funding have been allocated to create the ultimate vision. A street with dedicated transit, wide sidewalks, public art, community gathering spaces, mixed use and an outstanding urban design component. The construction will be completed in fall of 2018. The dream finally fulfilled.


You completed the International Certificate in Place Management at the Institute of Place Management in 2011. Do you find that the qualifications from this course have influenced your work? If yes, in what way?

Alison Karim-McSwiney: I think it is always important to keep yourself fresh with new ideas and practices in the industry. I found the course extremely rewarding as it made me think academically again despite being out of university for a couple of decades.

Being open to new ideas and research is a must in our industry, which IPM does an outstanding job in that regard. However, my particular experience is exceptionally unique. As the first executive director hired to set up the organization and then being able to continue the process through to a successful end over a twenty plus year timeline is largely unheard of. That does not mean that my journey ends here, however, as I think we need to be flexible to the needs of the member businesses in achieving the strategic goals set out by them and be fluid enough to seize opportunities to help in achieving your organizations ultimate goals. What I can bring to the table is a well-rounded knowledge of revitalization work from getting established to rolling with the forks in the road along the way.


The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides.

 

 

 

 

Archive: Crime prevention through urban design in the smart city era

Paper: Crime prevention through urban design and planning in the smart city era: The challenge of disseminating CP-UDP in Italy: learning from Europe

Journal of Place Management & Development, Special issue 9.2: Crime Prevention through Urban Design, Planning & Management.

This study relies on some European case studies on CP-UDP learned by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (EU COST) Action TU1203 and on a personal research experience focused on CPTED and its potential development in Italy – which was based on literature review and interviews with key informants. Continue reading “Archive: Crime prevention through urban design in the smart city era”

Conference Report: Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2017

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2017

4th Special Session – Retail aspects in Urban Geography and Urban Planning

Europe the state of play: the challenge of retail decentralisation

by Dr Steve Millington

This is the first conference report on the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2017 that took place in Boston, USA, in April 2017The growth of OOT shopping centres, which privilege car access, together with online retailing, is is now creating challenges for towns and cities on mainland Europe.  There are parallels with our findings from the HSUK2020 and #BDSU projects, with medium sized centres facing the greatest threats from the retail disinvestment and decentralisation. In this first conference report you will find

Continue reading “Conference Report: Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2017”

Meet the IPM: Interview with Dr Jess Edwards

Jess EdwardsJess Edwards, Fellow of the Institute of Place Management, is Head of the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research, since his Phd in the 1990s, has consistently focused on the literary aspects of geography and the geographic aspects of literature. Until 2014 his publications dealt with seventeenth and eighteenth century geographic culture, but recently he has begun a project exploring the place of literature, culture and public participation in landscape policy and strategy. Edwards is part of a local research group of creative writers and critics at Manchester Met with an interest in place, which supports an MA course route in Place Writing and a growing number of Postgraduate Research students in the area. Continue reading “Meet the IPM: Interview with Dr Jess Edwards”

Representations of Place in Music

Steve Knightly

by Dr Heather Skinner

I have always been interested in folk music, from being introduced to Welsh folk songs at school, and then through attendances at folk clubs in my teens, to much more recently when I ran a folk music club in my local town before I emigrated to Corfu in 2013. Around 15 years ago, at a folk festival in the South West of England, I first encountered the duo “Show of Hands”, although Steve Knightley and Phil Beer had been performing together as Show of Hands since the mid-1980s, and have performed as a trio with Miranda Sykes on and off since 2004. Show of Hands performs and records a mix of traditional and original songs. Apart from the sheer exuberance of the performers, what really struck me about their music was the inextricable link between their songs and the places about which the lyrics related. Indeed, the band’s own Facebook page stresses that “being rooted in Devon and the West Country … is part of the very fabric of this band and our material is closely entwined with its social history and geography”. Continue reading “Representations of Place in Music”

Will Orkney be overcome by Tourism?

by Prof. Harold Goodwin*

How does a small archipelago cope with becoming Britain’s most successful cruise destination? In 2011 there were 36,000 cruise passengers, last year there were close to 100,000, projected to hit 141 ships and 126,000 arrivals this year – a three and a half-fold increase in numbers. In 2018 the first 5,000 berth ships are due to arrive. Inevitably, just as in Venice, the cruise liners overshadow the islands and swamp the honeypot sites. Continue reading “Will Orkney be overcome by Tourism?”

Meet the IPM: Tarun Sharma

Tarun SharmaTarun Sharma, Associate Member of the IPM, is the co-Founder of Nagrika, an indigenous research and advisory organization working specifically on issues of small towns. He has ten years of experience in the domain of urban policy research and consulting. He led the urban division at Ecorys, a research advisory firm and has previously worked with Deloitte, Indicus (now Nielsen-Indicus) and McKinsey. He has managed and implemented various government and donor-funded projects on issues related to urban renewal, housing, livelihoods, mobility and land titling. He has also worked with the Ministry of Urban Development and the Ministry of Housing on their flagship projects. He has been responsible for strategic business development activities as well as research, knowledge management, review and drafting of policies relating to urban local development. He is passionate about urban institutions and cultures. He holds a Master’s in Public Policy from National University of Singapore and Bachelor in Economics from Delhi University.

Continue reading “Meet the IPM: Tarun Sharma”

Attracting MICE: Business Tourists’ Perceptions of Destinations

Business tourists and MICE
By SwissTech Convention Center, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48342060

Dr Heather Skinner* has undertaken research into “Business Tourists’ Perceptions of Nation Brands and Capital City Brands: A comparison between Dublin / Republic of Ireland, and Cardiff / Wales”. Her research paper is soon to be published in the Journal of Marketing Management (JMM).

MICE is the acronym used for the highly lucrative Meetings, Incentives, Conferences/Conventions and Events/Exhibitions market, and is often used to describe various forms of business tourism. The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) is the industry body for the global meetings industry, using a definition of business tourism as ‘the provision of facilities and services to the millions of delegates who annually attend meetings, congresses, exhibitions, business events, incentive travel and corporate hospitality’.

Continue reading “Attracting MICE: Business Tourists’ Perceptions of Destinations”

Meet the IPM: Interview with Paul Spencer

Paul Spencer is Projects and Operations Officer for Winchester Business Improvement District (BID) which is operated by Winchester City Centre Partnership. Prior to this he worked for 10 years in an economic development role with a particular focus on cultural and creative industries. He is in the final stages of his PhD in creative cities at the University of Winchester and he has given talks and guest lectures at universities and a range of different events, including conferences in the UK and overseas. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Institute of Place Management. Continue reading “Meet the IPM: Interview with Paul Spencer”

An Itinerant Sense of Place

Sense of Place

by Ares Kalandides*

Place is an important category in the construction of our individual and social identities. We develop a sense of place both by projecting ourselves onto places and identifying with them in myriad ways. We may, for example, use place names to identify ourselves (“I live in Berlin”, “I am from Greece”); we may be more or less attached to particular places, as they become markers of who we are (“I am a new Berliner”).

By Place, I do not only mean the “bricks and mortar” of a locality, but rather the interaction between the physicality and the social relations that come together in a particular locus. Place attachment then is with people and their cultures, with their food, language and behaviour – as much as with public spaces, landscapes or buildings. It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives. Tourists often behave differently at home than when they travel, although place attachment and responsibility may not be the only reason behind it (throwing away behavioural norms as part of the travel experience or the relative anonymity and lack of social control may be other explanations).

“It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives.”

In a world where many people (though by no means all) move constantly, is there still such a thing as place responsibility and indeed the space for place-based politics? Or as Doreen Massey put it back in 1991, is there a “global sense of place”? Continue reading “An Itinerant Sense of Place”