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Old April 6th, 2011, 04:11 AM   #1
Marcanadian
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Measuring Downtown Revitalization

I'm doing a project at University in which I am trying to figure out what role retail development plays in the revitalization process of downtowns. Obviously, it attracts people to the city centre to spend both money and time there. But part of the project requires me to actually answer the research question I proposed, and I am currently coming up with a methodology on how to do that.

I thought it may be a good topic for discussion. Downtown revitalization is often not evaluated for success, and is not measured. How can it be measured? Simply by the number of people (pedestrian counts before and after revitalization)? Or is it something more complex and a host of other factors comes into play: economic data, physical appearance of buildings.

I'm curious to know what everyone thinks.
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Old April 6th, 2011, 05:09 AM   #2
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Veeery complicated to be really accurate. Generally, comparing one city over time will be way easier than comparing two cities, because in the latter case finding parallels might be too difficult.

The first measure might be taxable sales. But that's complicated. For example, in many small downtowns, the average car dealership or supermarket will have more sales than the whole main street. You might need to break it out by block or even by business, and I doubt that sort of info is easy to come by. Are individual businesses' sales available at all? Further, there's the issue of what's "retail" and what's "taxable"...even in one place the definitions can change, and they'll be very different from one state to the next, or even by city.

Pedestrian counts can be helpful, but they're often just people heading for work, or to the bus, whatever. If you can spot a trend, attributing that to retail can be a supporting anecdote.

There are many types of retail, and many definitions of success. Some downtowns thrive on restaurants and bars but have less clothing sales. Others tend toward the latter. A district can be very successful with ordinary shops designed for people who live or work within walking distance, but not a destination for outsiders. Some districts specialize in one or two things, such as art, rugs, and/or furniture, but have low sales despite being successful. Still others can do well selling artisan or second hand stuff, and be successful far beyond the sales gross.

Retail is both an attractor and a result of healthy downtowns.

One factor in good retail is having the right variety of customers. Las Vegas can populate malls with tourists alone, and some districts are dense enough to succeed based mostly on nearby residents, but the best downtowns have a strong mix -- workers, tourists, business travelers, event crowds, downtown residents, residents from outside downtown but inside the first ring of malls, and suburbanites. Each has a different profile of when and what they buy. For example pleasure tourists are good for weekends and higher-end restaurants, while business travelers tend to spend during the week and often prefer "predictable" restaurants. (Either way, a hotel room is worth several condos, as each room is multiple shopping trips and many restaurant meals per week.) Downtown residents buy groceries and hardware but suburbanites shop at boutiques and trendy places they don't get closer to home. Downtown workers keep the lunch places, coffee shops, and happy hours busy. All of that put together isn't enough for department stores unless hundreds of thousands of people consider Downtown their main shopping place. All of these groups contribute to a vibrant whole.
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Old April 6th, 2011, 05:49 AM   #3
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Right, I was thinking rather than pedestrian counts, a observation of behaviour would be more effective. So checking to see whether the person often stops at stores, peeks inside, actually goes inside, has a shopping bag etc.
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Old April 6th, 2011, 11:13 AM   #4
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Yea pedestrians counts can say nothing:

I know neighborhoods overhere that now look much much better but have certainly not more pedestrians.
Neighborhoods got revitalised and new projects brought new people(rich) and new shops. But those people replaced other people (poor) that where previously lived in that neighborhood. The poor people just had to go to another neighborhood and now that one looks like shit...I'm talking over a process that has taken some 5-7 years...

Although I agree that a downtown needs to look clean and attractive and I also now that many north American cities have problems with this. But try to manage a good mix of incomes...
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Old April 8th, 2011, 07:36 AM   #5
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Its not just North American cities. South African cities such as Johannesburg is also having its revitalization in its city centre.
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Old April 8th, 2011, 09:41 AM   #6
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I agree that it's a very difficult thing to measure, but you certainly need to start by defining what revitalization means. If you consider that from time to time every neighbourhood needs upgrading, renovation, modernization, etc. to make it relevant in the modern world it's not just a matter of being pretty and clean.

A good well thought out definition of revitalization needs to be your starting point.
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Old April 8th, 2011, 01:09 PM   #7
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Can't you simply ask people?
Let's say that you asked 20 people who walk there, and twenty others who live there, what they think of the area before and after revitalization. If their score went from, say, a 5 to an 8, then it's obvious that things have improved. If the score stayed the same or went down, then you might have a clue that something went wrong there.
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Old April 8th, 2011, 10:51 PM   #8
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That would be much more effective if the same survey had been ongoing for a while. Then you could spot trends.

Asking 20 people for opinions would give you anectodal highlights, nothing more. And nothing measurable.
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Old April 9th, 2011, 03:49 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhays View Post
That would be much more effective if the same survey had been ongoing for a while. Then you could spot trends.

Asking 20 people for opinions would give you anectodal highlights, nothing more. And nothing measurable.
Depends. Stuff like safety figures are usually ongoing already, shouldn't be too hard to lift along with those. You could also look if there are comparable area's pre-renovation and see how the responses are there vs. responses in the renovated part.
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Old April 9th, 2011, 11:38 PM   #10
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If by safety figures you mean crime figures, you might find one side of a three-dimensional picture. The other sides would be stuff like how many people are in the neighborhood, which crime stats don't count (they get measured against residents but not shoppers for example).

Your survey is still totally anecdotal, not statistically useful.
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Old April 10th, 2011, 08:10 PM   #11
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More specifically, I am looking at how retail plays a role in downtown revitalization. I have defined revitalization as 'bringing life and vitality to a city'. This cannot be done I argue, without people. I am going to do a survey, something along the lines of asking people whether they are more or less likely to spend time and money downtown based on the physical attractiveness of the place. Revitalization will also include increased economic prosperity and social interactivity.
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Old April 17th, 2011, 10:32 PM   #12
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I would also consider looking at the change in commercial vacancy and rental rates, development permits issued, crime rates... try contacting a BIA organisation... Business Improvement Area, they could offer some useful info, direction.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 01:37 AM   #13
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If you want to know how the best downtown revitalization is done, look to San Jose. It got all the pieces and the vitality to be the best downtown around.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 10:42 AM   #14
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San Jose puts Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto downtowns to shame since it's the least gritty and easiest to navigate. It has the prettiest landscape and is the most balanced with offices, housing and condos, not one way or the other like other downtowns.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 07:44 PM   #15
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I think every post you have made is about how great San Jose is. If I went around back in 2005 exclaiming how great Toronto is I probably wouldn't have lasted long.
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Old April 22nd, 2011, 01:35 AM   #16
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If you would've done that for Toronto you would've just be an annoying booster, but not crazy. This guy is just downright delusional.
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Old April 22nd, 2011, 02:36 AM   #17
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He must have been banned from city-data earlier. I don't know about you guys but has anyone else noticed an increase in the number of crazy forumers on SSC?
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