Spillover of the private city: BIDs as a pivot of social control in downtown Los Angeles
Our paper addresses the complex role of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in current processes of inner-city restructuring and the function of BIDs in the implementation of new forms of social control in downtown areas. Our thesis is that, in the context of recent urban renaissance initiatives, BIDs are expanding their ‘clean and safe’ profile to be a much more comprehensive programme. Their goal is not only to produce safety and cleanliness in the urban environment but to influence the symbolic dimension of what the city is and for whom it is made. This implies indirect forms of governing the way in which the city is used, which go unnoticed if BIDs are identified solely as a tool to create ‘clean and safe’ public space. We will substantiate this claim with a case study on the current restructuring of downtown Los Angeles (L.A.). Since 1999, downtown L.A. has been profoundly ‘revitalized’ as a living and entertainment district for affluent residents. The nine BIDs covering the main parts of the downtown play an important role in making this gentrification happen by providing the appropriate context for restructuring. Beyond overt measures such as security forces or CCTV, the BIDs also have an important impact on the ‘geographical imagination’ (Harvey, 1973) of the city. The examples elucidate the anticipation of a broadening field of activity for BIDs, not only in securing an ‘urban renaissance’ but also in framing the way it is performed symbolically.