Historic preservation and communities as a long term sustainable revitalization strategy
Tomorrow is the first of May which starts National Historic Preservation Month, which is designed to raise attention about the value of historic preservation in a variety of ways--not only for urban revitalization.
Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times. Pedestrians cross at Colorado Boulevard and Raymond Avenue in revitalized Old Pasadena. Thirty years ago it was seedy, but today restored buildings radiate charm.
Last weekend, there was a travel story ("The new Old Pasadena may just bowl you over") in the Sacramento Bee about Old Pasadena, the historically designated historic district in Pasadena, California, which is now a reasonably well thriving commercial district, with housing, a great deal of successful retail and entertainment options, etc.
(UCLA Professor Donald Shoup would also argue that part of the success of this district has to do with his pioneering work there with regard to parking policies, e.g., "Turning Small Change Into Big Changes," Access Magazine, University of California).
On the other hand, there is a piece in the Capitol Hill Corner blog, "On the Eve of Potbelly’s Arrival on Barracks Row, Is Capitol Hill Losing It’s Character?," that opines that Capitol Hill residents want more retail, but instead they are getting more restaurants, and chain outlets such as Potbelly.
Barracks Row Main Street, 8th Street SE, Capitol Hill.
This is a tricky issue.
As we can see, while historic preservation is key to "saving" urban neighborhoods, as Capitol Hill in DC is also a historic district and has been since the mid-1970s, just because your community is historically designated doesn't mean that it can be a successful retail district--even if it is successful for restaurants.
With regard to local retail, it's becoming much more difficult for non-convenience retail to subsist or thrive at the level below what we would consider a regional shopping district, especially in categories like apparel, housewares and home goods, and sporting goods. (The main convenience retail categories are groceries, hardware, pharmacy and gasoline for cars.)
Pasadena's Old Pasadena district is the main shopping district for the city and is a regional destination for residents and visitors, while Capitol Hill is a destination for visitors but not so much for its retail offer.
While Pasadena too competes with other locations for retail businesses and customers, it's in a much bigger region (the city is 1/3 the size of DC with about 1/4 of the population of DC).
The Capitol Hill commercial district competes (unsuccessfully) with Georgetown, Friendship Heights, and to some extent Connecticut Avenue-Dupont Circle as a retail district, as well as with suburban locations. And it's getting a renewed even H Street, as it gets streetcar service is likely to reposition as more of a retail district, as it adds anchors like Whole Foods Supermarket.
That being said, destination retailers can be developed but they will require extranormal responses by commercial districts and residents.
For example, a bookstore may be opening in DC's Georgetown retail district and in order to do so it is getting funding from the commercial district improvement group and residents ("Politics & Prose Bookstore Is Considering Opening a Second Location," Washingtonian Magazine).
And DC has expanded its retail and restaurant support program, which is another source that can be tapped for financing ("D.C.'s Great Streets Grant Program Helps Fund Restaurants and Bars," Washington City Paper), even if some are critical.
Capitol Hill neighborhood brand/mural in Seattle.
But it helps to start with a plan. For a number of years, I've suggested ("Neighborhoods and commercial districts as brands") the creation of a Capitol Hill destination development, management, and marketing plan, which they don't have.