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Making a downtown work

Ruth Haag • Feb 25, 2014 at 3:00 PM

The Register staff recently published a Viewpoint that “Downtown Sandusky [is] World Class.” http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...


Some of the commentators felt that gentrification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gen...) would be occurring and others felt that urban professionals would not want to live in downtown Sandusky because it would be too far to their jobs.


Most mid-western cities experienced a death of their downtowns between the 1970s and today. Various events have been blamed as the cause of the death of the downtowns: the move of people to live in the suburbs, the rise of the use of automobiles, the development of plazas and malls to replace downtown as the shopping destination and the move of lower income people to the downtown areas. 


Many mid-western cities have also experienced a re-birth of their downtowns. When my husband Bob and I left Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1979 their downtown had only one store remaining open. About ten years later, we went to visit and discovered that all of the buildings had viable, modern, stylish businesses in them.


In order for a city to have its downtown reborn, most of the people have to agree that it is a good idea, and agree to work together. Often the City itself has to be willing to invest money in the process. I observe that the way that most downtowns are reviving is not through money from big chain stores, like Penny’s, but rather with small independent businesses owned by people who are often referred to as urban pioneers. These small independent businesses cannot survive unless there is a population of 

people willing to patronize them.


The downtowns that I have seen revived have some things in common, as follows:


Friendly people

Interconnected park systems that include long walking and biking trails

Fun places to shop

Fun places to eat

Lack of litter and weeds

Well-maintained streets and sidewalks

A feeling of safety on the streets

Friendly signs that help you find your way – by friendly I mean that they tell you where TO go rather than were NOT to go

Easy access to stores or services that provide necessities, like food and clothing

Safe-looking areas in which to recreate

Enough housing for people of all ages

A sense of community: people talking to one another on the streets and in the coffee shops


What do you think is necessary to revive a downtown?





©2014 by Ruth Haag

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