As anyone who works in the field of downtown management and revitalization knows, there are a multitude of aspects that need to be addressed. There’s never just one task or project that needs to be tackled, one problem that needs to be solved in order to create a perfect commercial district.
Instead, there are multiple varied, yet intersecting facets that need to be undertaken: landscaping and transit planning, placemakng, economic development, business recruitment, programming of public spaces are but a few of the things on the to-do list. It can be daunting and overwhelming to address them in the best of times. Add in even a smidge of resistance due to NIMBY-ism, bureaucracy, a lack of resources, etc, and downtown management seems a downright Herculean task.
So it’s especially encouraging to see how many of these arenas are beginning to gel – garnering support, financing, favorable regulations and more. There are so many examples of this it makes one almost giddy. Take transit, for example. Not only is there a tremendous demand among young people and active boomers to live in walkable neighborhoods with more transportation options, but here in Connecticut that notion is becoming our reality with the construction of the CTFastrak busway and the expanded New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line.
With recognition of the need for this type of transit comes a growing understanding that we must build vibrant, mixed-use communities to surround them. To support just such development, the State of Connecticut (as announced recently by Governor Malloy), the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and LISC have each committed funds to ensure buildings with a healthy mix of housing, retail and commercial space will surround the new transit stations. Looking next at housing, and a need to attract young professionals who want to live in these types of dynamic communities, there is a growing number of developers willing to build affordable apartments, and there have even been creative, thoughtful attempts by the state legislature to encourage young people to live in our downtowns by offering tax credits to young graduates with college debt.
Rather than detracting from each other, these efforts are building off one another, creating a tremendous network for change. Any one of them alone is exciting; taken collectively they demonstrate the time is right to build and re-build our downtowns using a holistic, comprehensive approach.