Friday, June 02, 2006

Redoing Downtown

I attended a couple of the kick-off activities for the Salt Lake Chamber's Downtown Rising program on Wednesday. Lots of interesting ideas and discussion floating around about it. Both the DesNews and the Trib have stories about it, and the Trib has editorialized about it as well.

Downtown Salt Lake City is an important part of our metropolitan region's identity and vitality. In recent years, it seems like things have slowed down in downtown, but there are plenty of things planned that will help to revitalize and maintain the core's importance to the region.

I don't think the downtown will ever again be the retail hub of the region as it once was many years ago -- suburban malls and activity centers are too common and spread around to ever make that possible again. But there are other things that the core can be important for -- business headquarters and important regional business centers, headquarters of organizations and institutions, arts, tourism and conventions, celebrations (Olympics, First Night, etc.), and so on.

Just as an example, a story in the Boston Globe about a year ago about two nearby downtowns -- Providence and Worcester -- give some object lessons about the importance of maintain a center for regional identity and focus. "Although downtowns have lost importance as commercial centers, they remain focal points for cities, venues where activities and interests intersect, and ultimately create a sense of place," the story says. "I know of no great city, or even a good one that has a bad downtown," says John Mullin, director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts in the story.

Robert Land, director of the Metropolitan Institute College of Architecture and Urban Studies in Virginia, was one of the speakers at the Downtown Rising kick-off. He did talk about how many metro areas now are moving towards having a series of "mini-downtowns" scattered throughout a region as activity centers and focal points for the suburbs. But the core, historic central downtown is always important for the region and its vitality, he said. It plays a different role today than what it did 25 or 50 years ago, and we have to clue into what that role should be.

Take a look at the Salt Lake Chamber's website which will give you some info and an opportunity to provide some input. This will be an interesting effort. More to come.

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