Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is It Real, or Is It...?

In light of the recent publicity about the Salt Lake Chamber's downtown visioning and revitalization effort, it's interesting to read this piece in last week's Wall Street Journal called Fake Towns Rise, Offering Urban LIfe Without the Grit.

While I heartily support strengthening our metro area's urban center and keeping it a vital source of our regional identity, I also think that we will need to see more "urban villages," sort of downtowns lite, because of the size and complexity of the region and the increasing difficulty in getting around easily.

So the Journal's story focuses on the creation of such faux downtowns, in some ways complimentary and in other ways not. "Legacy Town Center (outside Dallas) is ... spurred by a demand for urban living scrubbed of the reality of city life. A careful mix of retail, residential and office space built with traditional materials such as stone and brick, Legacy looks like a city but has neither panhandlers nor potholes. Many residents rarely venture even to downtown Dallas, which has been trying to turn itself into the place to live for almost a decade. 'There's too much riffraff down there,' says Ron Pettit, a 36-year old contractor, as he snacks on brie and grapes at a table outside Bishop Road's Main Street Bakery and Bistro."

The challenge for the Wasatch Front, as it is for many other metro areas, is to make downtown someplace people want to be, at least for some things.

"Houston has poured some $4 billion into downtown stadiums, roads and light rail in the past decade. But 27 miles to the north, the Woodlands Town Center has sold out of newly constructed lofts and replica brownstones in the midst of an affluent planned community. 'The question is whether this demand for urban-style living -- density, transportation alternatives, proximity to work -- is broad enough to accomodate the resurgence of traditional downtowns,' says Bruce Katz, founder and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution... ."

And that will be the trick for us as well. Can we build new urban villages in Sandy and Daybreak and Layton and Pleasant Grove and wherever, and also make downtown Salt Lake City succeed? Some careful thought and planning will be called for in this efffort.


At 8:10 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Kind of sad that we have allowed our original walkable communities (anything developed before the fifties) to deteriorate to the point that it seems more practical to abandon them and build entire new ones. I just hope that these new urban centers have robust public transit built into the plan from the very beginning.
But it may be a moot point. I suspect that economic conditions in the near future may make city rehabilitation more attractive and new development much less so.

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