According to the folks studying social trends, the public’s attitude toward downtowns continues to get more favorable every year. Fueling the flames of urban popularity are the millennials, baby boomers, active seniors and young families who are seeking a stimulating mix of retail, restaurants, entertainment, programmed events and pleasant public spaces. They also cite walkability with bicycles as the preferred mode of transportation and a mix of urban-housing options (and price points) as key factors making downtowns most attractive.
No surprise the bicycle is becoming a dominant presence in resurgent downtowns. That trend – along with the desire for health and fitness – is driving a demand for more exercise options in the core of the downtown. Exercise classes are popping up in public spaces and fitness zones, and outdoor exercise equipment is being added to public parks. Adding distance measurement signage to downtown streets and trails caters to noon-time and after-work walkers and runners. Two trends where downtown enjoys considerable forward momentum is our desire to increasingly purchase fresh, locally-produced food. Farmers markets (some now called growers markets) are still on the upward-growth curve, and many are becoming year-round operators. Successful markets are expanding their offerings to include classes, entertainment and partnerships with local restaurants. Also increasing is the movement to shop locally. Shift-Your-Shopping campaigns are growing because consumers have finally made the connection that locally spent dollars recirculate more directly back into the community.
Some downtowns, too, are seriously going to the dogs. Hotels aren’t the only businesses noticing that catering to both customers and their pets makes good sense. Urban dog parks, pet litter-bag stations and pet-focused events are growing. Durango businesses already provide water bowls and dog treats, but expect to see a dog show, dog photos and organized dog parades appear on the calendar.
Cross-promotion events are on the rise. An interesting twist finds small-business owners teaming up with restaurants and entertainment venues to give consumers new reasons to come downtown. Special food/merchant pairings can boost traffic for both businesses on slower days of week or in shoulder seasons. Downtown wine, beer and coffee walks continue to gain popularity and are being combined with shopping, dining and overnight-lodging packages. And by using real-time social media platforms instead of traditional advertising, special offers can be instantly sent, quickly updated and consumer response measured.
Experts emphasize downtown fundamentals couldn’t be more important. Aesthetics and quality of place will increasingly determine which downtowns will thrive. Downtowns must look clean, feel safe and operate efficiently as they evolve into 24/7 communities. The overarching trend is more people want to live and work in downtowns – and why not? Expect downtown Durangoland (the second happiest place on Earth) to continue to be a trend setter in all these areas.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Kunkel is the downtown business development manager for the city of Durango.