The Adolescent District

‘Focus, focus, focus.’ This is the advice we often give or hear when trying to redevelop a place. This phrase comes from a world of limited resources where you must focus to form some kind of ripple effect block to block. It can be good advice but assumes more top-down, omnipresent control than usually exists. Without contiguous site control the private market (if you are attracting it) inevitably jumps not in a straight line but a block or two away to where property is cheaper or more accessible. This creates the appearance of disjointed places. But this awkward adolescence phase of a place’s growth provides both a problem and opportunity. The goal is still to create a coherent, connected, and walkable place without any gaps. But to get there we cannot sit still waiting for everyone to get in line. Here are three ways to celebrate this phase and break through to the next:

1. Embrace the Islands

Don’t worry if it all seems disconnected. Different anchors attract different demographics that create different stories to make the broader district more diverse and interesting.

2. Know the difference between market support and market creation tools

The block or corner you’re focused on needs you in a big way. This is where market creation tools (acquisition, redevelopment monies, etc) are best applied. At the same time, offer market support tools (facade grants, business development grants, etc.) that the opportunists can take advantage of, even if it isn’t adjacent to what you’re trying to bring back to life.

3. Find connection workarounds

Shrink the district by building creative, inexpensive interventions to calm traffic, increase the sense of safety, and provide the physical cues that invite walking.