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Industry News

How to make downtown pedestrian malls succeed

The pedestrian mall, touted in the 1960s and ’70s as a savior of the downtown, has a mixed record. “Pedestrian malls were cities’ knee-jerk reactions to the malls of suburbia, white flight, and depopulation,” writes Andrew Dunham for Smile Politely, an online magazine based in eastern Illinois. The problem is that these car-free streets have often lacked the hustle and bustle characteristic of a vibrant downtown, especially after 5 p.m., when the office workers go home. “Aside from destroying the ‘downtown’ feeling, many were not carefully planned, just tossed into the urban fabric.”

But this does not mean that the concept should be abandoned altogether, argues Dunham, who supports a plan by the city of Champaign, Ill., to revitalize its downtown. “Cities with successful [pedestrian] malls, like Santa Monica [Calif.], Boulder [Colo.], Madison [Wis.] and Burlington [Vt.] have a few things in common: diverse land use … [and] good links to public transportation, and they are all in close proximity to activity-generating facilities, whether it be a university or tourist attraction,” he asserts. “These reclaimed streets are lively and exciting.”

By Edmund Mander

Director, Editor-In-Chief/SCT

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