New Reasons for Urban Centers
The Fall and Rise of America’s Downtowns–Part 1. Once a primary destination, downtowns historically grew as centers of commerce, but have lost advantages that they once held. Downtowns lost not only retail, but employment and housing as well. Factors that led to their decline beg a question, “how can downtowns remain relevant today?”
The Fall and Rise of America’s Downtowns–Part 2. After general decline, downtowns are on the rise again. They are less reliant on commerce and have found new relevance as cultural attractions, amenity-rich places to live, and vibrant incubators for start-ups and innovative businesses.
Lake Forest: Old New Town Center. This early masterplanned shopping center, connected to rail, not the automobile, and followed a retail design format similar to today’s new urban centers.
Restoration in Holyoke. Commercial economies are continuously remaking themselves – as are the places to which they are connected. Holyoke’s Churchill Neighborhood shows how reinvestments can repair urban neighborhoods and position communities for a new future.
Urban Centers in an Era of Job Decentralization. In the last few decades, most new jobs have been created in the suburbs. Existing urban centers present unique locational advantages, however, such as clusters of complementary and creative businesses. In suburban areas, new centers offer similar opportunities for specialized employment growth.
The Importance of Place
Experiencing Centers 1 – Inviting Places. The best places engage our sense, bring people together, and put us physically at ease. The first part of this post looks at the psychology of what makes a safe and attractive place.
Experiencing Centers 2 – Community. To succeed, urban centers must be socially relevant, delight our senses, and connect us to the unique heritage and geography of a place.
Parks as Downtown Attractions. Cities are investing in new parks to promote downtown revitalization, with favorable results for those that are well programmed and designed first for people.
Part 1 - Opportunity. Downtowns require housing to be vibrant and downtown housing is uniquely suited to meet diverse preferences and needs. Yet the potential for downtown housing lays largely untapped.
Part 2 - Affordability. For a variety of reasons, downtowns are particularly well suited for providing housing for a wide range of incomes. Downtown households realize savings from reduced car use. Meanwhile a variety of programs can make deeply affordable housing available. And downtown offers great urban living options for the well-to-do.
Part 3 - Diversity. In many ways, downtowns benefit from growing middle- and high-income housing, if deeply affordable housing needs are also addressed.
Urban Centers as Environmental Imperative
Part 1 – Footprint as Yardstick. People who live or work in urban centers consume a small fraction of the resources compared with their counterparts in suburban and less central urban locations. With resource consumption and greenhouse generation accelerating, it’s time to give urbanism its due.
Part 2 – Environmental Performance. People who live and work in downtowns and other urban centers consume only a small fraction of the natural resources per capita – and generate only a fraction of greenhouse gas – compared with their suburban, rural, and other urban counterparts.
Matt Taecker is a Principal at Dyett & Bhatia, a San Francisco urban planning & design firm. Opinions expresssed in Centers and Edges are his own.