March 28, 2005

Questions A Successful Planner Asks

"Peter Armato has been credited with resurrecting historic Savannah's beloved Broughton Street, a once-lifeless business district that currently thrives. He got people out of their cars in 1940s-era Bellevue, Wash., and created a downtown where folks can stroll from bookstore to gallery," notes the Sun Sentinel in describing the man now charged with revitalizing West Palm Beach's declining business center.

According to the paper, he will judge his success by answering questions such as, "Is downtown safer? Cleaner? Do more people live there? How many more visitors does it have than when he started? How many shops have located there? What kind of shops are they?"

He attracts shoppers to a downtown business district in part by creating a pedestrian-appealing environment. "In Bellevue, near Seattle, he brought pedestrian-friendly events to a city built for automobiles." He also seeks full support from communitiy leaders. "Two years ago, he was the top choice to direct the Downtown Development Authority in Shreveport, La., but withdrew because there wasn't unanimous support from local officials," the article says.

It's also important to note that he's not simply interested in attracting "stores" to a downtown area, but is very concerned about achieving the proper mix of retail. That's as true in downtown Framingham as it is in downtown West Palm Beach, by the way. If you want to make downtown a destination, where people linger and don't merely drive through, there has to be an appealing streetscape and a good and attractive mix of stores and services. Shopping malls plan their retail mix and store placement very carefully. If downtowns want to compete, they need to pay more attention to this, too.

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