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Thread: What does "downtown" mean to you?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    What does "downtown" mean to you?

    Folks-

    What makes an area a "downtown"? What elements need to be there? Retail is surely a part of it--but not every business district and shopping mall is called "downtown" by the locals. So, what do you think of when you talk bout downtown where-ever?

    --don

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Traditionally, downtowns were (and in many areas, continue to be) the physical, economic, cultural and spiritual cores of the community. Retail was only a part of the picture. Downtowns also functioned as the centers of government, and as public gathering places. You would go downtown to meet friends, participate in social events, go to church or temple, and visit the local library as well as shop and dine. Unfortunately, in some cities, these functions have been relocated away from "congested" downtown areas. I think that's made it more challenging for downtown retailers -- the critical mass that supported them is no longer present.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Downtown needs to be in the central part of a city or neighborhood.

    Downtown needs to have a history - it didn't just show up there yesterday.

    Downtown has everything - restaurants, retail, office, residences, etc.

    Downtown is a little rough around the edges.

    Downtown is a collaboration of individual property owners and tennants working together to create an interesting live/work/play experience. It is not controlled by any one person or corporation (ahem...in theory).

    Downtown is always changing, but always a little bit the same.

    Downtown is where you see any and everybody.

    Downtown has ice cream.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    The lights are much brighter there
    You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
    Downtown, things'll be great when you're
    Downtown, no finer place for sure,
    Downtown, everything's waiting for you.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by anf View post
    Downtown needs to be in the central part of a city or neighborhood.

    Downtown needs to have a history - it didn't just show up there yesterday.

    Downtown has everything - restaurants, retail, office, residences, etc.

    Downtown is a little rough around the edges.

    Downtown is a collaboration of individual property owners and tennants working together to create an interesting live/work/play experience. It is not controlled by any one person or corporation (ahem...in theory).

    Downtown is always changing, but always a little bit the same.

    Downtown is where you see any and everybody.

    Downtown has ice cream.
    I think this is a pretty good description. I'd also add it needs to be the center of the region's (regardless of size) transportation networks.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Downtown is the older economic hub of a metropolitan area or town. It may or may not be vibrant or relevant today. It usually came to be based upon transportation connectivity or political influence (state capital for instance), which resulted in economic prosperity. I say that it may or may not be relevant because many "downtowns" in large metropolitan regions have had their seat as the main jobs and economic hub reduced due to the creation of satellite cities and new urban economic zones.

    In Atlanta for instance, downtown is for tourists and conventioneers. Most economic activity takes in place in one of the other urban areas (Midtown and Buckhead) or in a satellite city (Perimeter and Cumberland). Downtown Atlanta has made great improvements in the last decade and is starting to be relevant again, due mainly to new museums, attractions, restaurants, retail, condos, and hotels that have been built. It has been a long road back and it is almost there again.
    Satellite City Enabler

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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    The lights are much brighter there
    You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
    Downtown, things'll be great when you're
    Downtown, no finer place for sure,
    Downtown, everything's waiting for you.

    When you're alone
    And life is making you lonely,
    You can always go downtown
    When you've got worries,
    All the noise and the hurry
    Seems to help, I know, downtown

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    folks-

    thank you all for your insight--especially the two Petula Clark fans

    Quote Originally posted by anf
    Downtown needs to have a history - it didn't just show up there yesterday.
    This particularly has been bothering me--ya can't build new old stuff.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Locate the main post office. You're downtown.
    That's what my dad always said.
    Annoyingly insensitive

  10. #10
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I've seen lots of downtowns without much in the way of retail. This is particularly true in the Midwest. Of course this depnds on how you define retail, as most will have convience stores and specialized supply stores (Kinkos, office supplies, lunch time food places, drug stores.)

    I would assume the following are good calls:
    - a high concentration of law offices
    - courts
    - city halls
    - banks
    - IT businesses
    - Not completely devoid of, but sparse greenspaces.
    - Hotels of over 3 stories in height.
    - Parking Garages
    - Main transfer point for transit.
    - Sevice bbusinesses.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  11. #11
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    A few other characteristics of most downtowns:

    1. Downtown should be the anchor of the community, without which the community would have no true identity.

    2. if there is an annual community event(s) in the city, it should be held mainly in the downtown area.

    3. it should provide for mixed uses on upper floors of retail buildings, especially residential uses.

    4. it should be the focus of historic preservation in the city.
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    To put it simply I'd say downtown is the area where their is the highest density of building square footage per/acre (or whatever unit you prefer.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by darnoldy View post
    folks-

    thank you all for your insight--especially the two Petula Clark fans

    This particularly has been bothering me--ya can't build new old stuff.
    I wouldn't worry too much.You can build something new and REAL. The transportation/urban form choices are what make the difference. As you pointed out, if you have residential population, full-time jobs and some public functions in close proximity, the rest (with a minimum of planning) will follow...
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  14. #14
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    Traditionally, downtowns were (and in many areas, continue to be) the physical, economic, cultural and spiritual cores of the community. Retail was only a part of the picture. Downtowns also functioned as the centers of government, and as public gathering places. You would go downtown to meet friends, participate in social events, go to church or temple, and visit the local library as well as shop and dine. Unfortunately, in some cities, these functions have been relocated away from "congested" downtown areas. I think that's made it more challenging for downtown retailers -- the critical mass that supported them is no longer present.
    Couldn't have said it better. Emphasis mine.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    "New" downtown

    Quote Originally posted by darnoldy View post
    folks-

    thank you all for your insight--especially the two Petula Clark fans

    This particularly has been bothering me--ya can't build new old stuff.
    In the case that you are building a new downtown...the architecture and urbanism should have some classic elements and be able to withstand the test of time - this means the design AND the materials. You want it to be a place that, in 50 or 100 years, people are fighting to save rather than complacently watching it get bulldozed.

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