Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The presence of women as indicators of revitalization success

Yoga House, PetworthKatrina Toews, left, and Autumn Saxton-Toews, attend an evening yoga class at Yoga House studio. Yoga House, on Georgia Avenue in the Petworth neighborhood, is one of the newest yoga studios sweeping through Washington. However, it is not located in a wealthy neighborhood. Washington Post photo by Lois Raimondo.

Maybe 15 years ago, I read an article in the Post that quoted an African-American stating that you can tell when white people are moving in because Mexican (Tex-Mex, El Salvadoran, etc.) restaurants start opening. He said something like "See, white people eat Mexican food. Blacks eat Chinese."

The other day, the Post ran this article, "Breathing New Rhythm Into Tired Streets," with the subtitle "Yoga Studios Signal D.C. Gentrification." While I object to the headline writer's use of the word "tired" (another word I need to add to the lexicon for the ongoing development of the paper "the language of revitalization"), it's still an interesting article.

Here's something I wrote in response to the article's being sent to me by Steve Pinkus:

Steve, I can't imagine that you remember the H Street Main Street presentation I did in July 2002 (even though you were there). I had a slide on women and commercial district revitalization, making the point that since women conduct upwards of 80% of all retail transactions, they must feel comfortable in our urban commercial districts, or revitalization won't happen.

I still think that restaurants are more important catalytic-seeds for neighborhood commercial district revitalization than a yoga studio. Just because you put up a yoga studio (or a Curves maybe), which appeals to women, doesn't mean the area is in fact safe to walk on the streets...

Restaurants seed activity, ideally positive activity, throughout the evening hours.

For another take on this kind of question, check out this piece by John King, Great architecture, clean streets, culture -- it must be Minneapolis, although I did write about it in the blog... John King on Cities (looking at Minneapolis) and this blog entry too:
The presence of women as an indicator of healthy public spaces.

In any event, since women conduct most retail transactions, it is essential that we pay attention to this, what I call the "soft side" of commercial district competition, in relation to the Reilly Law of Retail Gravitation:

(1) the quality and condition of the buildings;
(2) the cleanliness of the street and sidewalks;
(3) the condition of the street furniture, treeboxes and other aspects of the physical environment;
(4) the signage and windows of the businesses;
(5) the quality and organization of the store interiors;

all influence whether or not people will choose to shop in your commercial district, or if they will merely continue to shop elsewhere because you provide no compelling reason for them to change their minds, attitudes, habits, and comfortability.

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