April 18, 2005

‘Development Money Pumps New Life Into Old Downtown Suburb’

That's the headline on a Jacksonville (Fla.) Business Journal article about how the renewed interest in urban living -- where there aren't only attractions within walking distance, but an attractive streetscape that makes people want to walk -- is also helping revitalize an older suburb's downtown area. Framingham, please take note!

"Both SPAR [Springfield Preservation And Revitalization] and the business association like the idea of a pedestrian-friendly Main Street where residents and visitors can stroll along, visiting shops by day and businesses like Boomtown Theater, Henrietta's restaurant and Ninth and Main in the evening," the article explains.

It's key to have both daytime businesses and evening attractions, if you want to attract a critical mass of residents to revitalize an old, inner-ring suburban center. The idea: Live here, work here, shop here, get your entertainment here. "Density" by itself is unappealing. You've got to get some improved quality of life in return for increased density - places to walk to, both day and night. That's what makes Boston's North End such an appealing neighborhood for so many: People can walk to work downtown, then stroll around the neighborhood, relaxing in a local cafe, eating at one of the many fabulous restaurants, enjoying street festivals in the summer and indoor entertainment at other times, and so on. The sidewalks don't roll up at 6 pm. There's also a sense of place that encourages people to know their neighbors.

In Springfield, Fla., a historic apartment building was revamped to include offices, providing more jobs in the neighborhood. An old auto repair shop has been renovated to feature a restaurant, café, theater and art gallery, offering some entertainment.

"Creating a sense of community is a big part of the revitalization efforts, in [developer and restauranteur Craig] Van Horn's eyes. It is one of the reasons he is a sponsor of the Springfield Film Festival, which shows different short films every Thursday night. He said it gives Springfield locals a social hour to meet with neighbors, while providing a showcase for the redevelopment efforts in the area," the article says.

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