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A great downtown bridges gaps, brings us together

Sundance Square Plaza at night. Photo courtesy of Sundance Square

The Fort Worth Business Press inadvertently left out part of this column in the April 7 print edition. 

Chip Taulbee 

ctaulbee@bizpress.net

President, Fort Worth Business Press

Like world peace, smiling babies and cute puppies, a thriving downtown is something most everyone can root for – but prospering downtowns do not just happen. They often require planning and significant investment. The ability to articulate their value will determine whether or not constituents agree to the short-term pain in exchange for long-term gain.

The economic benefits of a vibrant downtown are tangible: economic development, infrastructure savings, tourism, a growing tax base, increased retail activity and more. And the environmental reasons are significant: energy savings, reduced carbon emissions and flood control, to name just a few.

But perhaps the best selling points for downtowns are both basic and profound.

Done correctly, a downtown brings together groups of people who otherwise are mostly isolated from one another, and it provides amenities so uniformly beneficial that their shared enjoyment becomes a shared achievement. Lofty effects, sure, but easily unnoticed.

America’s love affair with reinvigorating downtowns is old enough that for many it is hard to remember a time when it was not part of the public consciousness, like the environmental movement or steroids in baseball. And every day there are fewer people around who have experienced downtowns’ full circle of fortunes over the past half-century. Mid-century thriving hubs of social and commercial activity gave way to the hollow centers of urban sprawl. Then, some three decades or so ago, we decided more or less en masse that downtowns should be cool again.

Now, the notion of restoring Main Street is no longer nascent. Striving toward the downtown holy trinity of live, work and play are hardly progressive ideas. So we say we want great downtowns, either because we do not want them to become vice-ridden danger zones whose utility disappears with sunlight or because it is what we have always said and heard.

So why should we want great downtowns?

We need places everyone feels comfortable spending time regardless of race, age, social standing or economic lot. Suburban residences almost by their very nature encourage the segmenting of society, and not for nefarious reasons. Like-minded people are often attracted to the same places. And to a great degree, how much money you have determines where you live.
Whether for leisure, for work or as a special place to live, a great downtown brings myriad communities and individuals back together. Undoing the fracturing of society has to be a good thing.

Of course, creating a great downtown often takes foresight and resources. Anyone who doubts the latter has not been reading the Business Press’ coverage of the Trinity River Vision project.

And preconceiving a downtown and the investment involved in executing the plan can create divisions on its own. (Again, see: Fort Worth Business Press, Trinity River Vision.) But ultimately, a downtown consciously designed to be well used and enjoyed is a rallying achievement that better binds its people.

Downtown Fort Worth’s recent recognition by Livability.com as the nation’s best in 2014 should be relished by all of us locally because no matter where you live, work or spend your free time, you are a beneficiary. That is why the Fort Worth Business Press is proud to promote our great downtown in this special section and why we will continue for the rest of the year to share this honor with our readers.

How fortunate we all are to be part of this great city and its special downtown.
 

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