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Little Projects Make a Big Difference in American Downtowns

Alexander Garvin argues that it’s time for the end of the mega-project in an excerpt from "The Heart of the City: Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century."
May 16, 2019, 5am PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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A new stadium, or some other mega-project isn't going to save downtown, Alexander Garvin argues in an excerpt from his new book, The Heart of the City: Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century. "Rather than engaging in cataclysmic redevelopment, building huge, extraordinarily expensive public facilities, or giving gifts (aka subsidies) to privately owned businesses, we should be devising actions that help the people and institutions who are changing," Garvin writes. To help these people, Garvin suggests expanding the public realm and working to create a sustainable environment.

Garvin uses the example of New York and Denver as places that have made more public space for people in the city’s center. "New York City has been particularly effective in doing this without acquiring additional property by reconfiguring territory used by pedestrians, moving vehicles, and parking," Garvin contends. Creating safe attractive spaces for people to be in the city's center can shift transit modes, and encourage walking and recreation.

Downtowns also need to think about their local environments. Garvin talks about sustainability not just in a global sense but also in terms of improving the desirability and vibrancy of the city’s center. "Trees are the most effective and underestimated downtown occupants that improve air quality while reducing noise, absorbing runoff, and stabilizing ambient temperature," Garvin writes. Beyond trees, Garvin argues cities should look to create more park land by acquiring extra land when undertaking projects and converting the land into public parks.

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Published on Monday, May 13, 2019 in Next City
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