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Downtowns & Main Streets

Why Downtowns (Should) Matter to Planning Commissioners

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

... Fortunately, many downtowns have made a successful comeback, and many more are doing so every day. Revitalizing a downtown is a complex process, requiring patience, innovation, and ongoing commitment from a broad range of organizations and agencies.

One of the greatest ironies about downtown revitalization is that it doesn't really take place downtown. Sure, there are lots of things that can happen downtown to make the district healthier and more attractive -– from building improvement programs, to business development initiatives, to festivals and special events. But if the community's planning, zoning, and other land use policies do not encourage the concentration of economic activity needed to support the downtown, all the revitalization activities that happen downtown will ultimately have short-lived benefits. That makes planning commissioners' jobs particularly crucial to the revitalization process.

Downtown revitalization is essentially a real estate exercise: to make a downtown "succeed" economically, there needs to be enough sales activity taking place there to generate sales levels high enough for the businesses to afford the rent levels that property owners need to rehabilitate and maintain their buildings.

Sales --> Rents --> Maintenance and Rehabilitation

There are many different combinations of businesses and other uses that can fit into this equation. But regardless of the combination, there must be enough sales activity to support the rent levels needed for the real estate to work.

Downtowns should be the easiest place in the community for someone to open a new business, rehabilitate a building, or develop a new infill project. Unfortunately, the reverse is too often the case. Zoning regulations and overly restrictive codes, for example, frequently make it difficult to put residential units upstairs, above a restaurant or a retail space (not only limiting potential rental income, but leading to fewer people living downtown). Design review can take time and slow down the process. On-site parking requirements -– designed for suburban-style detached housing -– are often excessive for upper-floor housing in a walkable district. The list goes on.

But slicing through red tape and eliminating unnecessary regulations is not enough. It is essential for communities to make creating an economically and culturally vibrant downtown a top priority. Downtown development needs to be at the center of the community's land use priorities. ...

End of excerpt

The article then continues with Kennedy Smith discussing nine reasons why downtowns should be a top priority:

  • Downtowns are an extremely efficient land use form.
  • Downtowns represent an enormous amount of investment already in place.
  • A downtown's historic buildings provide a distinctive market identity for the community.
  • Downtowns attract and cultivate independent, locally-owned, businesses.
  • Downtowns create new jobs.
  • Downtown development minimizes air pollution.
  • Downtowns are true civic places.
  • Downtown revitalization is the ultimate form of recycling.
  • Downtowns are places where true innovation often occurs.

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