I had anticipated some of the rewards and discoveries of visiting cities in the process of economic and cultural recovery and re-invention. An unexpected reward has been the chance to get a time-capsule view, a kind of real-life time-line diorama, of how the downtown areas of cities look through all the stages of a decline-and-rise cycle. The declining phase includes hollowing-out and pawn-shop-dominated decay. Then there is spotty and tentative improvement. Finally, if all goes well, full-scale health through a combination of stores, restaurants, theaters, downtown condos, and all the other elements of a region that attracts commercial and human activity through most hours of the night and day.
As I described last month in this post, we’ve seen cities that serve as showpieces of how this process looks once it has succeeded. These range from Greenville, South Carolina, to Burlington, Vermont, to Columbus, Ohio, to Holland, Michigan, to Pasadena, California, and others in between. We’ve seen others well along the path toward downtown development: Duluth, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Riverside and Redlands and Winters, California. And others that still have significant challenges but have taken big steps (like Allentown, Pennsylvania) or are about to (like Fresno, California).
Here’s why I set this out again: It’s tempting, if you haven’t seen the varied stages of this process, to imagine that some cities just “naturally” have attractive and successful downtowns, and others just don’t happen to. It’s like happening to be located on a river, or not.
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