DOWNTOWNS WHO OFFER SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE WILL ATTRACT EVERYONE


​Downtowns who offer something for everyone will attract everyone – As previously stated, a downtown is a space meant for public use. It should not be solely planned or designed for a single age group or socio-economic class. Take a look at the above picture of the Pearl Street pedestrian mall in Boulder, CO. This space is perfectly designed to accept all users and keep them there. Incorporation of play spaces for families, easy walking surfaces for the elderly and ample recreational spaces encourage everyone to visit the downtown. Families or groups of individuals are made up of diverse peoples and designing a space that works for everyone will ensure increased take-up of the space.


Communities are not “one size fits all” – Downtowns are a living and breathing “beast” that are designed to meet the needs of an independent community. A downtown evolves and adapts to meet the ever-changing needs of a community; presenting goods or services that communities determine are important. The downtown is also a space that represents a community’s values and collective vision. While properties within a downtown core are often privately owned, it is through a collective sense of pride that communities preserve and maintain a downtown to fit their needs. 

IDENTIFY YOUR RESIDENTS NEEDS AND THEY WILL SUPPORT YOUR COMMUNITY


​Downtowns who offer something for everyone will attract everyone – As previously stated, a downtown is a space meant for public use. It should not be solely planned or designed for a single age group or socio-economic class. Take a look at the above picture of the Pearl Street pedestrian mall in Boulder, CO. This space is perfectly designed to accept all users and keep them there. Incorporation of play spaces for families, easy walking surfaces for the elderly and ample recreational spaces encourage everyone to visit the downtown. Families or groups of individuals are made up of diverse peoples and designing a space that works for everyone will ensure increased take-up of the space.


Communities are not “one size fits all” – Downtowns are a living and breathing “beast” that are designed to meet the needs of an independent community. A downtown evolves and adapts to meet the ever-changing needs of a community; presenting goods or services that communities determine are important. The downtown is also a space that represents a community’s values and collective vision. While properties within a downtown core are often privately owned, it is through a collective sense of pride that communities preserve and maintain a downtown to fit their needs. 


Working with downtown associations and municipalities across the country, we continually hear: “If our roads had less traffic, and we had more parking, our downtown would thrive again”. This statement could not be further from the truth. It has spurred Downtown Redevelopment Services (DRS) to prepare the article below outlining the importance of an inclusive street.


“A VIBRANT STREET IS A PROSPEROUS STREET”

All too often we hear the following statement from communities: “if we just had wider roads and more parking our downtown would thrive again”. The beliefs that drive people to this assumption are based upon a corridor experiencing a loss of vehicular traffic. While this can affect businesses, it is most often not the true reason for a corridor experiencing a decline. When communities dig deeper, the items below are typically found to be the root cause of a loss of economic success within a downtown:

  • Lack of options – not enough variety in goods or services to attract customers.
  • Unsafe “feeling” within the corridor – due to space dedicated to vehicles, reduced sidewalk widths are provided for pedestrians.
  • Lack of integration for alternative forms of transportation – specifically bicycle and pedestrian circulation systems.
  • Lack of separation between transportation systems – There are not ample spaces for each transportation system to adequately coexist causing areas of conflict
  • No destination sources – while not every community must be a DESTINATION, every community needs an attraction to bring people to town. By this we mean a community need not create a regional or nation-wide draw, but it needs to offer a service to attract local residents to the community. Sample services might include pizza shops, small markets, produce stands, local watering holes, book stores, etc.


Many communities lack the ability, or desire, to identify the root issue impacting their downtown. While many communities never identify the cause of their deteriorating status, communities that take the time to deep dive into their specific community concerns are rewarded with a clear and concise set of guidelines that can be used to help reinvigorate their downtowns. The process undertaken to help communities create this deep level of understanding often includes:
 

  • Downtown economic analysis, including:
    • gap analysis
    • developer analysis
  • Comprehensive community input and analysis;
  • Downtown specific planning, including:
    • marketing
    • branding


Understanding that communities are at different stages economically and socially, we want to provide a few topics or ideas that may spur some catalyst topics amongst residents and elected officials. The ideas outlined below are provided based upon experience from DRS staff working with communities across the country. While they may not work for every community, some will be useful for many. 

AN INCLUSIVE STREET IS A PROSPEROUS STREET


A street that is inclusive of all methods of transportation creates a more prosperous and sustainable economic corridor. Embracing bicycles and other alternative methods of transportation helps encourage more people to visit a downtown. Case studies have shown communities that incorporate bicycle lanes experience increased spending. Studies report that typical expenditure for transport-inclusive downtowns is almost $3 for every $1 captured in a community that is vehicular-centric.  We often talk to our communities and pose this simple question:


  • If you have two downtown users, the first driving a $1,500 vehicle, the second driving a $1,500 bicycle, which do you feel will have the most expendable income to use within your community?


While communities should be designed for all, the above question is often posed to help illustrate the true benefit of offering an inclusive downtown.

SLOWING DOWN TRAFFIC SPEEDS UP SPENDING


​Slowing down traffic speeds up spending – Speed and convenience for automobiles are the enemy of a strong downtown. By allowing vehicles to take precedence over pedestrians and alternative transportation, users feel unsafe. This feeling is caused by a very real issue. Specifically, many downtowns have become less about civic space and more about efficiently moving traffic within the past fifty years. This has resulted in smaller sidewalks, more hazardous roadway crossings and more pedestrian/vehicular conflicts. In order to draw people to your town, it must appear to be safe and inviting. Facilitating this requires:

  • Slowing down traffic – Tighter downtown corridors require slower speeds, offering longer exposure times for businesses and improving visibility for both pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Increasing vegetation – Trees and shrubs create a necessary vertical plane along a roadway, providing a sense of security for pedestrians. As an added benefit, vegetation also provides valuable shade in warmer climates and noise reduction.
  • Allow for civic gathering spaces – Downtowns are gathering spaces where people watch the world around them and want to be seen. It is vital civic spaces fill this role for a downtown. Provide benches, trash receptacles, bike racks and adequate lighting to allow these spaces to be utilized year round, regardless of the time of day.


All of the above recommendations will not only make a downtown better for pedestrians, it will also encourage them to walk up and down the corridors. This type of use will encourage people to shop, linger and expend more of their money within the downtown. Make the space attractive and the small financial investment required for upkeep will be paid back with increased tax revenue. 

DOWNTOWN MYTHS