Saturday, August 08, 2009

Downtowns as Cultural/Civic Centers

An excellent article from New Geography about the emergence of downtowns as cultural and civic centers, rather than the economic and job centers they were previously considered to be and many feel should become again.

From our region, the historic downtown of Folsom is nicely profiled.

An excerpt.

“There's been a torrent of spirited banter lately about the reemergence of downtown central-cities. Much of this raucous debate is between advocates of urban revitalization, who offer an assortment of anti-sprawl messages as justification for this movement, and those who see suburban growth options as essential to quality of life in America. Adding to the fray are environmentalists who see housing density and alternative forms of transportation as the panacea for confronting our carbon-choked world. Downtown central-cities, they say, will incentivize citizens to relinquish their cars in favor of bikes and walking paths.

“These discussions largely ignore a greater significance to the reemergence of central-cities; namely, the recognition of downtowns as the epicenter of civic and cultural activity. This represents a shift away from the traditional concept – barely a century old and now antiquated – of downtown as predominately an economic and job center hub….

“Folsom, California, is indicative of a suburban community that fosters civic ties and activities through its historic downtown district. With a population of 70,000 this city located in the eastern portion of rapidly growing Sacramento County draws an eclectic crowd to its old town boardwalk setting replete with saloons, outdoor restaurants, and antique stores. The downtown core also serves as a gathering post for legions of bicyclists who have helped shape Folsom into one of the top bicycling communities in the nation.

“During summer, downtown Folsom hums with activity generated by two weekly events: Thursday Night Market, featuring live music, food and shopping, and the Sunday Farmers Market, where frequenters can purchase fresh, locally grown food from area farmers. Plans are afoot for a street-scape improvement and a storefront restoration – projects that are designed to preserve historic elements while enhancing the city's tourism desirability. Also in the works are mixed-use housing units and a restaurant that incorporates a railroad roundabout. All of this comes on the heels of a new parking structure and ice-skating rink, which debuted last year.”