Wednesday, April 27, 2005

It's About Residents, Stupid!

I attended the Vibrant Downtown symposium yesterday in Salt Lake, which was very interesting. Lots of people were there, most of whom I did not know. Are there really that many new planners in the state that I haven't met, or were there just so few planners there?

You can read a couple of press accounts of the symposium in the Deseret Morning News and the Salt Lake Tribune.

Neither press piece captured what I think was the central message of all the out-of-town experts who spoke -- it's about residents. If you want downtown to be a vibrant, happening place with lots of people around 24/7, and places for them to hang out and buy things, you've got to have a strong residential component in the downtown to support the businesses and add full-time buzz.

Makes sense, really. In most of the cities I've been, in the U.S. and Europe, that are hopping places, there does seem to be a lot of apartments, condos, town homes, whatever, right in town and very close by.

The speakers also talked about other interesting components, such as the vitality and interest a university can bring to downtown, public facilities, street design, and so on. But the big message I got was about having people actually live there. It may take some time, but it can happen. San Diego's story was particularly telling to me, where the effort to create a vital downtown began with a focus on residential, and they kept at it for a number of years. Now the people are there, and everything else is beginning to fall into place.

Mayor Rocky Anderson did take his usual pot shots at the LDS Church, criticizing them for not making a more open process as they work through the redesign of the two downtown malls. While I agree that the owner and developer must come up with their proposals first, there is value in involving the public in the process early on, if for no other reason than to defuse concerns and opposition that will surely surface once the plans are revealed.

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