Failing Downtowns

Sacramento’s downtown has been a failure—empty buildings, horrible design elements, unsafe at night, agressive panhandlers and the raging mentally ill by day, and grungy all the time—for decades.

So have many downtowns in Florida, the subject of this article from New Geography, also posing universal ideas to change the situation.

An excerpt.

“To many Florida developers in the last decade, downtown condo towers seemed to make a lot of sense. They were sold as the logical locale for active seniors and millennials, great affordable starter homes, and best of all, investments.  Reinvigorating downtowns became fashionable currency in many of Florida’s second and third tier cities. 

“Sadly, many of these new structures have turned into hulking shadows today in places such as Delray Beach, Tampa, and Orlando. Many of Florida’s core urban districts suffer the dark windows, unoccupied balconies, vacant storefronts and wide open sidewalks that signify the opposite of thriving urbanity.  Repairing this false renaissance in downtowns requires city leaders to see the central business district for what it really is: just another suburb needing attention to stay healthy, safe, and productive.

“Suburbs are heavily marketed by their developers with product launches, public relations campaigns and lavish sales centers.  Downtowns, on the other hand, produce websites, but rarely have more, relying instead on the desirability of a downtown address to fill up space.  Rental apartments in former condominiums are competing with the slickly marketed suburbs for people.

“In terms of buying, the suburbs are winning, with the more desirable single-family detached dwelling now suddenly affordable.  Suburbs are comfortable, safe, and familiar to most buyers.  Downtowns are seen as edgy, transitional, and alien to many people, but they are attracting adventurous renters and a few buyers here and there who want to create a new scene.  A scene is one thing; a stable social network and a feeling of safety and security is entirely another.

“What downtowns lack is the sense of neighborhood that many inner-ring suburbs have, and the outer-ring suburbs are effectively gaining.  Until downtowns start reinventing their identity, they will have a difficult time selling a sense of place among the empty lots and decaying infrastructure.  Touring the downtown residential properties today is like touring a movie set, with new developer inventory garishly contrasting with the older, grown-in building stock. Few dare to tread past the end of the fresh concrete sidewalk, and the urban infill efforts are sporadic and unconnected. But, unfortunately, this has always been the case.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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