What Happened to Downtown?

I have been interning as a Planner for about a month and a half at the City Hall. The portion of the city that we are in is the southern most portion known as Downtown. Most people in this city only know of Downtown because of the Shipyard and many of the municipal activities that happen here. If they don’t deal with any of those things on a regular basis, downtown means nothing to them. People born into the late 80s and early 90s know very little about Downtown. They hear about it through the news and they perception they get from the news is that it is bad. The media reports very little about the other parts of the city because they don’t want the perception of those areas to be altered. Why mess up the perception of the entire city when there is a portion of the city that fits the perception of run down, desolated, and crime ridden? What happened to Downtown?

The downtown area was the original city before the annexation of many other counties and cities. The city started right here. This is the heart. Ancestor lived and worked here, walked the streets, enjoyed life here. History is all around this area. What happened to Downtown? The suburbs of the city have pulled citizens away from their history for bigger yards, closer proximity to big-box stores, and cheaper housing. Suburbs create sprawling cities, where the car is key to success. Without the car, you have know job and there is no way to interact with society without cars. The car gives you a certain power that is hard to take away but without the car you are powerless. Gas prices are rising, cars costing more, and the commute is taking longer because each morning and evening traffic is backed up because there are too many cars on too little lanes connecting the suburbs to downtown. The idea of moving downtown to have a higher rent, but less dependence on the car is looking really good right now. The only problem is that downtown has fallen into disarray. What happened to downtown?

Downtown took a hit after the citizens move towards the suburbs. The businesses downtown left following the trend of its customers, making the commute less of a burden. The churches left after the attendance dwindled as the commute to church became too long. They leave behind the shell of beautiful building that may have lasted over a hundred years, hoping that someone would buy that building so it won’t fall into disarray. The property is bought, not because of the building, but because of the land. They bulldoze that beautiful church to create an ugly, cold parking lot. The same had became of old homes and businesses. Some turned from one prestigious neighborhoods into deserted blocks of homes. They become the stopping grounds of drug dealers and other unpleasant tenants. They are left unmaintained and began to become a blight. The city has no choice but to demolish it. All that is left is uncut grass. The downtown are lost its character when you left for the suburbs. Downtown didn’t have anyone to hear its story. Downtown became a blight in our eyes and we deleted it. That’s what happened to Downtown. How can we revive it?

Reviving downtown will not be an easy task. It takes more than just money to bring it back. It takes will and dedication, understanding what use to lay here, why this building looks this way, and what importance it had to the city. Rehabilitating old buildings into their once grand form is a start. That is how you build character. As one building is complete, others pop up mimicking the first. The people come out and begin to like the idea of having the “old downtown back.” It feels a little more like home, walking down paths shade by trees and awnings, interacting with businesses about their products, and starting new friendships. Walking to your car which is parked on the side of the road instead of searching through a sea of rows to find the car that looks like one out of every 10 cars in the lot is also a plus. Living would be a lot easier. Imagine walking to work, never having to wake up an hour or two earlier to fight the traffic and be on time.  This could be happening at your downtown.

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