The Changing Role of Downtowns: An Examination of the Condition of Cities and Methods to Reinvent the Urban Core
Byrd, Kevin Ryan
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Downtowns across America have changed as a result of suburbanization. Population shifts and changing land consumption patterns caused by advancements in technology, such as the Interstate and the Internet, along with social and economic factors, alter downtown development. The city, and particularly its downtown, used to represent the nucleus for all commercial, retail, and industrial activities. As population and commerce suburbanized, the "central" business district became one of several business centers and lost much of its retail function. Currently, cities are re-evaluating their development strategies to determine the best methods to attract people back to the urban core and to regain the vitality that once defined city life. Efforts to redevelop downtowns typically assume the characteristics of place-based strategies by following either infrastructure strategies or consumer strategies. The former method is more traditional, with attention given to specific land uses, such as residential, retail, or entertainment activities. Essentially, infrastructure strategies rely on the "build it and they will come" motto. Consumer strategies strive to attract young professionals, single-parent families, and "empty nesters" for urban living by accentuating amenities unique to the city lifestyle. Roanoke, Virginia serves as a case study for evaluating suburbanization trends and methods of redevelopment for a small- to medium-sized city. By calculating and analyzing household and office employment projections, the Roanoke market shows signs of strength among young, renter households and Central Business District office employment. With a downtown residential market emerging and downtown office employment growing, adaptive reuse of urban space may prove to be Roanoke's method of reinventing its downtown by orchestrating a consumer-based redevelopment effort.
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