The emergence and rapid spread of business improvement districts ("BIDs") is one of the most important recent developments in American cities. BIDs have been controversial, with both supporters and proponents viewing the districts as part of a trend toward the privatization of the public sector. By examining the legal and political structures that determine BID formation, functions, finances and governance, this Article determines that BIDs are not private entities but are, instead, a distinctive hybrid of public and private elements. Moreover, although the particular fusion of public and private institutions, values and concerns embodied in the BID is unique, Professor Briffault demonstrates that an interplay of public and private themes is a longstanding tradition in American local government law. BIDs depart from the norm of democratic governance and they raise questions concerning equity in the delivery of local services. BiDs, however, are ultimately subject to municipal control and they provide a mechanism for providing the public services and investment that financially strapped cities need if they are to survive. With appropriate municipal oversight and limits, BIDs, and the experimentation in combining public and private roles that BiDs represent, can make a significant contribution to the quality of urban public life.
A Government for Our Time? Business Improvement Districts and Urban Governance,
Colum. L. Rev.
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