Why Central Business Districts Need Diverse Users

Central districts benefit from diversity, but a century of disinvestment and exodus has put many in a precarious position.

1 minute read

July 8, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The downtown business districts of many American cities, write Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui in the New York Times, "were created through subtraction." The office buildings we think of as the core of these districts were all that remained after residents, department stores, small retailers, and entertainment venues fled the central city. This "precarious urban monoculture" "was already susceptible to shocks and recessions before the pandemic." 

Now, with offices emptier than ever and many remote workers unwilling to return, the future of the central business district has become an urgent question. "Downtowns, like investment portfolios, are more sustainable when they’re diverse. The past year has made that plainly clear in places like Midtown Manhattan, where property tax assessments, transit ridership and small-business revenue fell particularly far during the pandemic." 

Yet despite efforts to rebrand urban downtowns as complete neighborhoods suitable for living, working, and playing in, "a century of history" has left many of them hollowed out and dependent on office buildings for their tax base. Cities that have diversified, like Austin, faced less severe economic losses during the pandemic. "The lesson that downtowns need more than offices is 'not just true in this post-Covid world,' said Kourtny Garrett, the head of Downtown Dallas, Inc. 'For us in Dallas, that’s been true since the big crash in the ’80s.'"

Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in The New York Times

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