Union Square Visits San Antonio for International Downtown Association Conference

Union Square Partnership team at IDA in San Antonio, Texas

Union Square Partnership team at IDA in San Antonio, Texas

Union Square headed south in October for the International Downtown Association (IDA) Conference and Tradeshow - the signature gathering of inspired leaders who are shaping cities around the globe. This is the premier event for urban place management professionals to discuss industry trends, share best practices and learn the latest tips of the trade.

At the conference, the Union Square Partnership team led two panels alongside experts across cities in the U.S.

Trash Talks: Approaches for a Waste-Free Public Realm

USP Clean Team. Photo by Liz Ligon

USP Clean Team. Photo by Liz Ligon

Director of Economic Development Monica Munn presents at IDA

Director of Economic Development Monica Munn presents at IDA

The cleanliness of a neighborhood’s streets and sidewalks is one of the most visible metrics by which urban place management organizations are evaluated. BIDs get firsthand experience with the impacts of too much trash on budgets, pedestrian activity, and business retention.

At the forum, over 70 attendees joined to gather to discuss how business improvement districts take on managing public waste. Led by Rebecca E. Karp of Karp Strategies, Monica Munn, Director of Economic Development at the Union Square Partnership, Gerren G. Price, Director of Public Space Operations at the Downtown DC BID, and Amy Lego, Executive Director of Operation Downtown at the Greater Des Moines Partnership shared how their organizations are changing processes and behaviors to build more sustainable neighborhoods.

Karp summarizes the session for key takeaways:

  • Partnerships are critical, especially creative ones. Partnerships not only with waste management services, but also with businesses, neighborhood leaders, research organizations, and other local stakeholders are helping these initiatives gain real traction.

  • Try something and collect the data. BIDs can be a place for experimentation, and many are finding that pilot programs with a strategy to track progress have been effective. You don’t always need to be a full-fledged program to get the ball rolling.

  • Trash is hot. That’s not just a garbage joke. BIDs are seeing successes in bringing economic growth to city centers, which means more waste, and increasingly more urban professionals trying to find a way to manage it.

The Union Square Partnership released its first Zero Waste Resource Guide, helping local businesses and institutions think about their waste infrastructure, complete with a detailed database of service providers to provide waste solutions.

The Neighborhood Your Brand Built

Photo by Jane Kratochvil

Photo by Jane Kratochvil


Managing a brand is just as complex, challenging, and occasionally joyful as managing a place is. In the age of social media and global competition, districts rely on brand to communicate their character and deliver impressions. This session will explore three case studies of place brands — from conceptual storytelling to marketing implementation. Though varied in scale, geography, and governance, these districts share a common understanding of the vital role place brands play in expressing the essence of a location. 

Jonathan Alger of C&G Partners - the design firm that managed Union Square Partnership’s rebranding - moderated the panel with guests, Scott Hobbs, Deputy Director of Union Square Partnership, Cameron Gearen, Marketing Manager at Oak Park Economic Development Corp. along with design firm F. Philip Barash, Creative Director of Sasaki, and Edward A. Romero, Vice President of Marketing and Community Engagement of Centro San Antonio. At the forum, over 100 attendees gathered to take key learnings from panelists three distinct branding experiences.

Summarizing the session:

  • For Union Square's Partnership, the new brand connected their programming back to the organization through typography, which led to an increase in visibility to the organizations programs, event attendance, digital reach, constituent communications, and donations + sponsorship.

  • For both Oak Park EDC and Union Square Partnership, the design firms created brands around playful language in distinctive font with a set of guidelines, so the organizations could build on-brand communications independently of their design firms. 

  • When branding a neighborhood, or a downtown organization, there are pros and cons to choosing design firms within your neighborhood, and outside of your boundaries. For Union Square, the team felt strongly about working with a local firm looking to give back to their community. For Centro San Antonio and Oak Park, firms outside the district’s boundaries provided a different perspective and new ideas to consider when creating the next iteration of the brand.

  • San Antonio developed a brand using an iconic historic symbol that is instantly recognizable to natives. The brand was developed in the public domain, encouraging businesses downtown to use the symbol on all their own communications and marketing materials.

  • Sasaki shared that it’s just as important to think about the aspirations of your neighborhood as the history while designing a new brand. Complimenting that, Oak Park also found it important to get feedback on their design from the next generation of the community during the process. When they interviewed high school students and received positive feedback on the new brand’s authenticity to the neighborhood, and the voice, they knew they were onto something successful. 

Read more learnings from C&G Partners here.