On the Declining Standard of Building Downtown – Part 2 The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

You may want to read Part 1 first

As promised, this post will use pictures to illustrate the evolution of how our community has dealt with national chains that have come to our downtown. As noted in earlier posts, the sub-urban form that has only recently started cropping up downtown is a symptom of our larger problems. When considered in isolation, none of these buildings have the power to undo a downtown. However, considered in concert, these present a very real threat to the character and uniqueness that make downtown a special place.

I am not tilting against chain store windmills. Most chains started off as small businesses and because they provided a good or service that people wanted, they became successful and expanded. I think that is super duper. That is the promise of western capitalism and one of the premises that made us a superpower. However, I for one prefer to spend my few farthings at locally owned businesses...but that's another story.

The Good
In each of the following cases, our community had processes in place to welcome these chain operations and work with them to develop projects that respected their corporate brand while respecting the character of our downtown. The photographs below show a typical sub-urban version of the chain and the iteration that was built in our downtown.

The Bad
In these cases the poorly designed projects were identified in their early stages. Token gestures were made to make each of them appear more urban, but to little effect. In both cases the powers that be blinked, and in doing so set the precedent for what was to come.

The Ugly
Its fair to say that the pictures below speak for themselves. Is there any difference between what they typically build in the 'burbs and what they have built downtown?

Isn't this backward? Why brick in the 'burbs and EIFS downtown?
The dumpster on the corner of 4th and Broad welcomes the million+ visitors
that enter our downtown from Exit 1C.

Virtually the exact same building. Staring directly at it can cause blindness.

This goes beyond matters of style. This matters to the city. Density, scarceness of land, and uniqueness are in the DNA of downtown. The examples shown above are of projects that actively degrade all of those characteristic elements. The more we continue to do these things, the more our downtown becomes a shadow of itself and a replica of Anywhere, U.S.A.


  1. Bravo Christian. Keep it up. You are spot on (as usual).

  2. Excellent! My thoughts exactly when I saw Chili's going in. Now I get to see the ass end of Applebee's every morning heading in to work.

  3. Agree. As I tend to think, "chains leave stains."

  4. Quote from the Charter for the New Urbanism:

    The block, the street, and the building

    "A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.

    Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings."

    Christian, can agree more, if is very frustrating showing clients and love ones how intact and special our downtown is and see these examples of projects that slipped through the cracks... and now the community has to live with them... Thanks for the voice!