A trend appearing across the nation in cities big and small is the development or redevelopment of downtowns. These areas are gaining clout as a kind of “blank canvas”, ready to be rejuvenated in the name of economic development. They are also gaining popularity amongst luxury loft and condo developers, who are rapidly buying up old office buildings and warehouses in the downtowns of some of North America’s biggest cities. But while this recent revival of interest in often ignored and abandoned city centers is providing needed economic growth for their cities, the low-income residents of this formerly-unwanted real estate are seeing rents shoot far out of their price range. Gentrification has pushed thousands of downtown residents out of their low-rent housing, such as old warehouses, lofts, and single-room occupancy hotels. Though the cities see a downtown renaissance resulting from the influx of predominantly younger residents with money to spend, displaced lower-income residents are left looking for another place to go.
“A growing downtown is not, in other words, the historic norm, and there seems little reason to frame the decline of downtown as some sort of failure, rather than the next step in urban evolution.”
Is a policy that requires 50 years to bear fruit is really an efficient use of public resources. That’s where evaluation would be helpful. But many studies of downtown interventions are descriptive and prescriptive: they tell us what planners are doing and what planners should be doing. Policy recommendations and case studies abound, but there isn’t a lot of cost-benefit analysis.
“Why are large cities in the business of revitalizing their downtowns at all? …[A]ssuming that our goal in economic development is to help people rather than places, downtowns seem a strange candidate for public resources, because they often don’t have many people.”
…Another way of saying this is that we should ask what the goal of downtown revitalization is. Revitalizing the downtown is not necessarily the same as revitalizing the center city, nor is it necessarily progressive. A revitalized downtown might help revitalize a center city, but the causality could just as easily run the other way…
Manville on Downtown Revitalization: What, How and Why?
wednesday, September 6th, 2006