I am a Downtown Evangelist.
It can actually be a bit obnoxious at times. My wife is often very reluctant to come downtown with me for a date because she knows that I can never 100% remove myself from assessing and analyzing the environment and activity in downtown. Noticing lamp posts that are out, store inventories that are changing, signage that isn’t effective, all of the little things that almost no one notices scream at me until I get them on my to do list.
If you know me, you know that I love Santa Cruz, and in particular, I love Downtown Santa Cruz. That works out because it’s my job, but it goes much deeper than that.
Why do I love Downtown? Let me count the ways:
Downtowns, in and among themselves don’t create community. It takes effort, intention and action to really bring people together in meaningful ways, but downtowns provide a fertile environment. Not only for building but supporting community.
2- Downtowns supports Diversity
This has been true for decades, but the very notion is frankly threatened today. For years, Downtown was the place where everyone came to work. The Suburbs and neighborhoods were divided by class and ethnicity, but Downtown was where everyone came together. Where we were forced to face our differences. As we see our urban centers finally being places where people from all types of backgrounds intermingle every day, where diversity is the norm, we are also seeing a great economic shift in our downtowns. Unless we thoughtfully and aggressively address social equity in our cities, we will begin to see a complete disintegration of our downtowns that is neither socially or economically sustainable.
3- Downtowns encourage innovation
You know the story of Apple putting the bathrooms in the center of the building, necessitating cross-departmental (if not cross gender) interactions. That is the function of a successful downtown. An ecosystem of multidisciplinary thought where friction is designed, where designers and engineers and artists and philosophers intermingle is the key to creativity. getting outside the limitations of your world is the promise of a downtown with ample public amenities. A Square, A riverwalk, Good restaurants, and meet-ups for people outside of your office walls. Friction is inspiring
4- Downtowns have the answers
We face many challenges today, and I’m not going to make any grand statement about simple solutions, but I will say that I honestly believe that the answers to many of these issues can be found in Urbanism.
Climate Change: Transportation, Shared resources, reduction of energy, there are so many ways that our city centers are more energy efficient than the suburbs and sprawl of yesterday. Beyond the very design, there is an economy of scale that allows for innovations and shared resources to be effective.
Homelessness: Hold on, I’ll explain. Homelessness is complicated and there are many related issues and the root causes are varied and complex. but at the end of the day, there isn’t enough housing for the number of people who need to be housed. A smart Downtown is designed to include a broad diversity of density housing.