The Four Ingredients for Reinventing Downtown
With the rise of strip malls, expansive parking lots and freeways, downtowns have spent years on the decline. But after decades of suburban sprawl, people want vibrant downtowns again. Whether they are visiting a new place or hanging out close to home, they want ambiance, entertainment, shopping and good food. They want to stroll from shop to shop, and sit at an umbrella table for coffee and people watching. They want places that are open late and offer things to do after dark. They want a sense of community that only a great downtown can offer. This is the age of “Third Places.”
How does a community bring their downtown to life? Turn it into a thriving “Third Place?” Roger Brooks International has worked with communities all over North America and we’ve discovered the key ingredients for reinventing downtown.
1. Create a Third Place
People are looking for that “Third Place” – a place to gather with friends and neighbors during their leisure time; to socialize, relax, shop, dine, and play together. According to Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place), the “First Place” is where you live, your home. The “Second” is where you work. The “Third Place” is where you go to hang out, spend your leisure time. Throughout history, downtowns have provided an essential “Third Place” for their communities. If your downtown is a vibrant place where locals go to shop, dine and hang out, visitors will go too. But if locals don’t hang out there, visitors won’t either.
A vibrant downtown will have a variety of shops and restaurants clustered in a small area. It will be pedestrian friendly and beautified with street trees and flowers, creating a pleasant ambiance.
2. Stop being all things to all people
The days of being all things to all people are as gone as the industrial revolution. People are bombarded with thousands of advertising messages, and this oversaturation causes people to simply tune out things they don’t feel apply directly to them. The solution? Focus on what makes you unique, worth the drive, and promote the heck out of it. Don’t try to be the “something for everyone” destination. That kind of promotion is ineffective and largely ignored. What makes your downtown special? What makes it a better experience than hanging out in the downtowns of your neighboring communities? Discover what makes your downtown special and focus on it. Being all things to all people means you get lost in the shuffle and become nothing, to anyone.
3. Jettison the Generic!
If your marketing messages could apply to just about any community, anywhere, it’s time to take a fresh look at what makes you unique. Remember “stop being all things to all people?” It’s worth repeating, and it has to carry into your marketing messages. “Something for everyone,” “Unique,” “Discover,” and the most overused of them all, “A great place to live, work, and play,” are just some of the phrases you should avoid at all costs. If it is so generic it could apply to anyone, throw it out! Tell people what makes you special. Generic messages are meaningless and ineffective. Repeat after me, “Jettison the generic!”
4. Downtowns and Tourism Organizations Work Together
Tourism is the front door to your non-tourism economic development efforts, and creating a great downtown is a big part of that process. Downtowns and tourism organizations should be joined at the hip. Working to create an inviting downtown will enhance all your tourism and economic development efforts, as well as creating that “Third Place” that locals and visitors are looking for.