Can One Person Revitalize a City's Downtown?

Ed Walker saw what few others in his hometown of Roanoke, Virgina were able to see: potential. Walker is part a growing group of "vanguard developers" intent on changing the fortunes of their cities by the sheer force of their vision (and wallets).
July 27, 2012, 6am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Developer Ed Walker, whose ethos is described as "more Joe Strummer than Jane Jacobs," has achieved somewhat celebrity status in his town of Roanoke, Virgnina. Melena Ryzik of The New York Times describes one man's efforts to bring change to his hometown. "Mr. Walker, 44, a former outsider-art dealer and a third-generation lawyer from a prominent local family, has emerged as a commercial developer with an unusual civic conscience," reports Ryzik, "In less than a decade, he has bought more than a dozen disused historic buildings, renovated them and enticed people to live in them."

Indeed, the downtown core of the town has seen quite the comeback. Residents now number at nearly 1,200, when there were once fewer than ten. Last year, Walker even began hosting an annual conference, called CityWorks (X)po. "Mr. Walker's conference is intended to share his blueprint for urban redevelopment, a field known as placemaking," writes Ryzik.

Not only is this occurring in Roanoke, but "many towns already have their own version of Ed Walker, said Bruce Katz, a vice president at the Brookings Institution and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, which focuses on cities. 'This is happening across the country,' Mr. Katz said."

"'What you're seeing is a group of vanguard developers and vanguard businesspeople who basically spot a trend and then double down or triple down with their own resources' to buy property cheap, collaborating with like-minded leaders 'on the placemaking agenda,' he said."

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Published on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 in The New York Times
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