DTFW’s Top Takeaways From This Year’s International Downtown Association Conference

In early October, the International Downtown Association (IDA) held its 69th Annual Conference & Marketplace in Chicago. The conference’s theme centered around Community, Culture & Commerce, with master speakers that ran the gamut from artists and activists to politicians and CEOs. The goal of the conference? Bring community leaders together to discuss trends, tools, and insights to improve cities around the world. 


Not familiar with the IDA? Think of it as a global member-based collaborative of professional place management leaders. The IDA connects place management leaders and organizations, (like Downtown Fort Wayne) and provides knowledge, research and public policies to help create inclusive, prosperous urban places.


This year, DTFW’s Preston Wallace and Abby Norton were among the 1,400(+) attendees at the conference. Here are some of their major takeaways:


  • It’s paramount to prioritize your values. You may have heard the quote, “When you have too many top priorities, you effectively have no top priorities.” The same is true for an organization or community, just as it is for an individual. It’s important to figure out what values and priorities need to be of focus, so we can concentrate on making measurable changes for our community.
  • Culture is key. Every community has a culture all its own. It’s important to make sure your city’s culture is one that’s well-honed and truly reflective of its residents. Once we’ve identified our community’s culture, find ways to spread it with pride.
  • Retail isn’t dying, but it is evolving. While the state of retail has changed a lot since the rise of e-commerce and decline in brick-and-mortar stores, physical shopping experiences are still integral to a community. Retail is turning to more creative approaches, like pop-up shops, to deliver special experiences without the overhead of a permanent storefront.
  • Creating strong relationships is crucial. Because place managers are so interconnected, we’re uniquely poised to help build bridges between communities, city officials, stakeholders, and media alike. 
  • Having a “parking problem” is indicative of a growing, thriving Downtown community. While a parking problem doesn’t sound inherently positive, it’s an inevitable growing pain that any flourishing city faces during its period of expansion. So, it’s important to remember that having a parking dilemma is just a sign that our city is heading in the right direction. Solutions are on the way, it will just take some time to build.  
  • A five-year strategic plan is vital to achieving goals. Five years might sound like a long time to plan ahead. After all, a lot can change in a city in five years’ time. But that’s no reason not to make a plan to stay on track and accountable for accomplishing our vision. With the rapid growth of DTFW, being strategic is more important than ever. Just remember, plans don’t need to be set in stone. We can always pivot when change is needed. 
  • Be a storyteller. As a place management organization, we have a unique perspective of our community, the city, and its residents. So, the best way to tell our community’s story is from within—with the most authentic voice possible. 
  • Provide space. Providing innovative public spaces, where people want to gather, is essential to any place managing organization. Public spaces (i.e. The TriCore Porch off Calhoun, PNC Plaza) create opportunities for the community to come together and strengthen. It’s pertinent to orchestrate these opportunities for togetherness.
  • We’re not alone in the challenges we face. With over 1,400 attendees participating in the conference’s discussions, it became clear that urban communities across the globe shared a lot of the same hurdles. And while solutions don’t happen overnight, it’s comforting to know that there’s strength in numbers, and that the IDA provides a space where we can connect with other professionals who have a wealth of knowledge, insights, and experiences we can turn to and learn from. 

To learn more about the IDA, its work with cities around the world, or this year’s conference, visit the IDA’s website.

Molly Conner is a Fort Wayne native and freelance writer. Having lived in Downtown Fort Wayne throughout her twenties, she loves watching her stomping grounds grow. With her love of storytelling and community in tow, she’s eager to tell Downtown Fort Wayne’s story piece-by-piece—exploring the people, spaces, and organizations that make it thrive.