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:
Interconnected park systems that include long walking and biking trails
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?