Davon Barbour ’99
Reviving our cities
By Tamia Williams
For Davon Barbour ’99, growing up in Baltimore meant seeing the city sometimes struggle under challenges. Now, as the president and CEO of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans, Barbour is helping his adopted city tackle its own issues. The Downtown Development District (DDD) of New Orleans is America’s oldest special improvement business district. Barbour specializes in urban placemaking, which he defines as “the act of curating an environment that’s welcoming, inspiring, and beautiful for all.” The DDD’s mission is to bolster property values and activity, thereby producing new jobs, more local businesses, and an attractive landscape. Barbour was chosen for his position out of 150 candidates and has served since December 2021. He’s responsible for 160 city blocks in New Orleans and represents property owners, civic organizations, and other constituents.
Prior to the DDD, Barbour revived cities nationwide. One such project was the $2 billion East Baltimore Revitalization initiative. This two-year redevelopment plan between Baltimore, John Hopkins University, and the Abell Foundation welcomed a new live science and technology park.
“I’m really proud of that work,” Barbour says. “When I go back to East Baltimore today, I can see the live science park that’s there. To know that it was once a series of abandoned and vacant homes—it just makes me so happy. It’s not a perfect project, but the cost of inaction was not acceptable.”
Not everyone is initially open to change. Barbour recognizes this and works to establish faith within the community. He says, “A lot of my work was making sure that I built up trust by taking care of some of those quality-of-life nuisances. That way, they can trust me when it comes to the complicated issues at hand.” As a representative of many stakeholders, Barbour is used to discussing concerns and criticism.
“It all comes back to empathy,” he says. “Just looking at the person on the other side of the table and understanding where they come from.”
Barbour credits his empathy and critical thinking to his time at Goucher College. He says, “Being around people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, genders, sexualities—you name it—did prepare me for the diversity of the world that I would be a part of.” Not to mention, Goucher’s focus on writing makes detailing reports easier.
When asked to give advice for current students looking to enter the professional world, Barbour explained the importance of three attributes. “When I hire, I look for three traits: passion, empathy, and critical thinking skills. If you’ve got those, I can teach you the rest.”