Monday, August 28, 2006

Salt Lake's Downtown to Become a Phoenix?

No, not Phoenix, Arizona. The mythical bird phoenix, rising from the ashes!

Quite the insert in today's daily newspapers, titled Downtown on the Rise. It is the latest update on where things are at in the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce's recent initiative on downtown Salt Lake City. You can see the details of all that is in the insert by going to the Downtown Rising website.

A really impressive effort. There is no question in my mind about the need for a viable, vibrant core central city, if for no other reason than to give a metro area a sense of identity and history. The actual function of that core, however, is something that is a little tougher to nail down. Once the primary location for high-end jobs, today's metro downtowns serve a variety of functions. The trick is to keep them from becoming abandonded and run down, as some have been. I don't see that happening in Salt Lake City, but still, it needs to find a solid role.

An interesting contrast in how two downtowns have fared in their transformations are the stories of Worcester, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island, as detailed in a story in the Boston Globe last year. There may be some lessons there for us.

The story notes, for example, that Providence resisted the urban renewal projects of the 60's and 70's, resulting in a better base of stately buildings and historic streetscapes, while Worcester wiped out a section of downtown and replaced it with a concrete monolith of a shopping mall that has now failed and needs to be "renewed" again.

Providence was also more successful in engaging its universities in civic life, which Worcester has failed to do, to the detriment of both.

Lots of interesting parallels for us here in Salt Lake, with some lessons about the roads not taken.

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