5. Money

So, where were we? Ah, yes, track five of the urban design blog tribute to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. To be honest, this tribute is in many ways like the album itself- now that I’m about halfway through I’ve realized that the idea of doing it is great, but the process of doing it is somewhat long and arduous. I am going to do my best to stay the course, but I know that there will be at lease one more interruption before this gets closed out – stay tuned.

Money- it makes the world go ‘round, and the love of it is the root of all evil. Much has been said and written about the shift in global wealth to a very few who are very rich. With the upcoming elections we’ll hear more about those with money exerting their influence over the process. Those points merit discussion. This post, however, addresses the more positive aspects of money as it relates to the development of downtown. Money is a key component in downtown and one could argue that money is the reason that downtowns exist. The opportunity for trade and commerce are key reasons that people locate in close proximity to one another. Trade, commerce and exchange are good and necessary activities that we all engage in (unless you live on a farm, grow your own food, make your own clothes, provide your own healthcare, make your own tools, etc, etc.)  A functioning downtown will facilitate commerce for the ultimate benefit of the citizenry.

Private sector entities invest downtown in order to provide goods and services to their customers. Investments are made by the public sector to enable the private sector to operate. Public investments also create a public realm that encourages people to inhabit the city and facilitates the interchange between buyers and sellers. For instance, when we suggest streetscape, it’s not just because trees are nice. A well-defined streetscape hierarchy provides visual cues to potential customers about where they can engage in different types of commerce. A well-designed and well-maintained streetscape increases the perceived quality of the stores on the streets, thereby inducing customer visits. Trees and street furniture can make a walk down the street more viable and comfortable and increase the amount of time potential customers spend in proximity to the businesses.

The key for all parties involved is to create situations whereby a dollar invested generates multiple dollars in return. The community needs to make sure that we leverage our investments to induce more investment and to create wealth. When the public sector invests in infrastructure, it should be done so in a way that results in a tax base that goes beyond merely covering the cost of the expenditure and results in revenue generation.

I’m working with a client in the Midwest to assist in the revitalization of their community. My client’s mission is to serve the entire community, but the have engaged me to focus on downtown. While my recommendation is clearly self-serving, I have been pitching them the concept that money they invest in downtown will have a far greater impact than money spent on projects in the ‘burbs. For example, a 240 linear foot infrastructure project (lets keep the streetscape theme going- sewer, lighting, sidewalk, trees) downtown will service at least a dozen different businesses. The same 240 linear feet in the outskirts of town might serve two. Of course, that’s not an apples to apples comparison because of things such as taps and curb cuts. It does, however, highlight the fact that investments made where there is an existing concentration of activity will have greater impact for a larger number than investments made trying to service one or two entities.

This topic is one that warrants a much more in depth post. Perhaps in the future I will return, but for now, I’m spent (get it?). I will, however, leave with you with a link to a money-centric article that has me looking forward to the fall.

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