Downtowns As Suburban Neighborhoods?

  • Richard Reep wants to see downtowns (and central cities) succeed, so he’s proposing something unconventional as a means of getting there: “what downtowns need is what makes the suburbs so successful: safety, continuity, and ease of contact with neighbors.  Recasting a downtown as a suburb simply acknowledges the sense of neighborhood that most people now can only find on the suburban frontier.”

    “Compared to suburban tracts, Florida’s downtowns have a stiffer regulatory environment, with downtown development boards and aesthetic police to prevent all but the most deep-pocketed players from entering the game.”

    He’s on to something.  In an effort to “revitalize” our city centers, local politicians, citizens serving on advisory boards, and urban planners have heaped layers upon layers of regulations on downtowns.  Such efforts, however well intentioned, have the effect of making development very complicated and costly.  Understandably, people look elsewhere to get business done.

    Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation finds an example of planners from a Portland-area city breaking with conventional wisdom and … adapting to market forces!  Unfortunately, the current trend is not to do as Reep or Staley suggest but instead to the regulation regimes that have deadened downtowns into the suburbs.  Many communities have adopted stifling and coercive regulations on the urban edge in the “Future Land Use” elements of their comprehensive plans.  Some planners even brag about the impediments placed on suburban development being so cost-prohibitive as to virtually prohibit them.  This they hope will redirect development downtown.

    It would be more respectful of a free people if they would follow Reep’s advice instead.

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