Tuesday, June 6, 2006
What kinds of commerce should cities encourage to revitalize their downtowns? I was recently in Albuquerque, which, like many sun belt cities, saw its old commercial downtown whither in the suburban age. New Mexico's biggest city has tried to revive its downtown with nostalgia: its Central Avenue was a stretch of the famous old Route 66 (eliminated by unromantic highway managers when Interstate 40 was run through the Southwest) and still holds a lot of interesting Art Deco buildings. But while the city tries advertising nostalgia, the successful new businesses I saw on Central Avenue were all youth-oriented: night clubs, dance spots, and hip bars. This is a lesson that policy makers and planners are often reluctant to understand: While it may be possible to lure single young people with few responsibilities to the bright lights of downtown, it is far harder to attract suburban families, who seem to prefer the big parking lots, short walks, and controlled atmosphere of the suburban realm.