A move away from a tourist-based model
Tourism describes more the pattern in which one interacts with a place and less the actual origin that one is originating. It is behavior not a zip code. It In the past, guests who came to downtown were coming for their job, an event, or are visiting for a few days. All are forms of downtown tourism, regardless if one came by commute or by the family van. It requires clear zones and districts for the visitor bureaus to neatly market: Come to the Sports and Entertainment District! The Convention District! The Central Business District! This has led to a built environment that is designed to accommodate peak traffic flows and parking volumes to get people in and out of a downtown expediently; a restaurant and retail offering that is geared toward visitors and large peak hour crowds (for example, lunch and dining connected to events); transient users and visitors that “borrow” places like hotels and public spaces; and limited full-time residential units. It is designed to be seen from the air or on a free hotel cartoon map rather than as a series of wonderful experiences and surprises.
Corporate citizens are taking a leadership role in moving downtown past a simple business district and into a vibrant, enduring urban neighborhood. They are doing so not out of the kindness of their hearts or as a simple public relations trick but, rather, to accomplish any number of the following goals that can drive their core business:
The Downtown University
Point Park University in Pittsburgh is largely responsible for keeping the lights on and streets activated past the previous norm of a 9-5 workday. They brought 1,000 full-time students downtown, converted parking lots into public spaces, expanded night classes, and adapted several buildings to create a downtown campus that hums. Restaurants are opening and staying open into the evening, nights and weekends have a real life to them, and the once corporate character of downtown Pittsburgh is evolving to be one that supports much more diversity of tenures and age groups.
Norfolk, Virginia, pursued a similar strategy with Tidewater Community College (TCC). TCC was brought downtown to a key site that connected a revitalizing core to the historic, stable neighborhoods outside of it. Now, rather than coursing through abandoned buildings and streets, pedestrians and bicyclists can meander through an urban campus that supports 24/7 activity in its streets and public spaces. It has been critical for downtown Norfolk and the neighborhoods that adjoin it. Granby Street is now a walkable home to apartments, retail, and offices where it was once simply the quickest way to speed out of downtown.
In the past, corporate citizens and campuses would have taken steps to isolate themselves from the downtown neighborhoods they inhabited. Today, they are working together to create extraordinary, integrated environments. Their work provides enormous justification to make the types of enduring investments necessary for a thriving downtown: building restoration, safe streets, programmed public spaces, active commercial cores, and diverse housing options.
Who are the corporate citizens and institutions in your town or city? How can they come together to make possible something extraordinary?
The following two weeks I will be working in Norfolk, Virginia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, with my Urban Design Associates team. These two cities are working hard with their corporate citizens and downtown universities to help their downtowns adapt, grow, and prosper.