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Mid-size cities rediscover downtown to regain mojo

Mid-size cities are working to reinvent themselves from being faceless residential suburbs to having a distinct downtown district with retail, restaurants and entertainment.

Mid-size cities are working to reinvent themselves from being one in a sea of countless suburbs to having a distinct downtown district that serves both residential and business interests.

At least that's what's happening in Massachusetts, according to a Boston Globe report.

Reporter Casey Ross calls it a "renaissance," and leading the charge is Quincy, with a $1.3 billion plan for a new city center, and Lowell, with an $800 million project to rebuild its downtown.

He writes:

The trend is rooted in the belief among many developers and city planners that the era of the monolithic shopping mall is over, and that people want to live, work, and shop on Main Streets that reflect a community’s culture and history.

Most mid-sized cities used to have historic Main Streets of their own, but sometime in the last five decades, let them regress into collections of stores that didn't stack up to what nearby shopping malls offered. And business districts certainly kept pace: many are cookie-cutter buildings nowhere near dining, shopping and entertainment options.

The idea now is to bring back the "city" in "mid-size city."

Ross, again:

Today, the principle behind revitalization efforts is to make downtowns not just shopping areas, but 24-hour neighborhoods with homes, offices, and entertainment venues where residents can shop, dine, and mix at movies and concerts. Such efforts helped transform downtown Providence, for example, into a thriving cultural center and business district with local artists, new restaurants, and popular retail stores.

The key thing here: walkability. Instead of housing complexes, retail destinations and sprawling office parks, think more of a mixed use environment, with street patterns and stores that actually facilitate window shopping during an office break.

It's not just financial, either; civic pride is also at stake, Ross writes.

The question is whether these mid-size cities can work well enough together to facilitate activity -- particularly from retiring Baby Boomers -- on the street past 5 p.m.

Will it work?

Reclaiming the center [Boston Globe]

Illustrations: Street-Works Development

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com