A Downtown is “A Place Where Everybody Wants to Be”

As many cities in North America work to revitalize their downtowns, they need to remember that a city’s downtown, its core, its centre, its heart is a place for all citizens.

Donlyn Lyndon, professor emeritus of architecture and urban design at UC Berkeley, California and the editor of PLACES, an environmental design journal said at a meeting of the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee“Downtown needs to be a place where everybody wants to be and if not enough people are using it, it seems to be dominated by one group.”

The Government of Ontario is supporting the downtown revitalization of Ontario cities by funding the building of downtown campuses of post-secondary institutions.  Brantford and London Ontario are examples.

It would be easy for city councils to allow such institutions to completely take over a downtown.  Unfortunately, as Prof. Lyndon alludes to, if one group dominates a downtown it ceases to be a downtown, a core, a centre, the heart of a city.

Following is a downtown plan prepared for Scottsdale, Arizona.  Kevin Gardiner & Associates, Planning and Urban Design set out the key ingredients to a great downtown.

The 24-hour downtown has:

• Mixed Use.  24-hour districts are created by placing uses with different hours of peak activity in close proximity.

• A Network of Destinations.  A network of pedestrian-friendly streets and open spaces links a diversity of cultural, commercial and residential destinations.

• A Complete Community.  Residents and businesses take ownership of districts within their downtowns, making them safer places with stronger identities.  This attracts a population that is diverse in age, income, backgrounds, and culture.

• Services.  A range of services to accommodate a variety of populations:  residents, employees, visitors.

• Resilient.  Downtowns with a wide range of activities are more resilient in surviving a downturn in the office, retail or housing market.  In seasonal areas, the 24-hour downtown can also provide the setting for establishing a year-round 12-month downtown.

Ontario cities would do well to follow this advice.  We can then create downtowns where, as Prof. Lyndon says, “everybody wants to be there.”

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