Thanks to my Twitter/in-real-life friend Keith Case for making me aware of this great Washington Post article.
Fascinating article on the revival of small downtowns. Real estate experts and demographers are noticing what we’ve been observing on the ground: That the downtown and historic neighborhoods of West Palm Beach are its competitive strength in the region, aligning with broader national demographic and economic trends.
From the historic cities of Alexandria, Annapolis and Leesburg to the newer Metro-centric communities of Bethesda and Clarendon, the desire to live within walking distance of restaurants, bars, theaters and parks has revitalized once-withering downtowns, according to demographers and real estate experts.
Elsewhere, examples of the boom abound: Evanston outside Chicago, Pasadena outside Los Angeles, West Palm Beach outside Miami, said Christopher B. Leinberger, a George Washington University business professor who has studied the trend for years.
“The very asset that made it successful originally — that it was walkable — became a disadvantage in the late 20th century when everybody wanted to drive everywhere,” Leinberger said. “Now that very asset is what’s bringing it back.”
But once you get this influx of talent, you need to keep it.
But even its biggest boosters acknowledge that Frederick faces challenges. It lacks a grocery store or much new housing. In all cities, large and small, it remains unclear whether millennials will stick around to raise their children. Some in Frederick are trying, but many others won’t, including downtown devotees Drew and Meghan Murphy, who recently broke ground on a suburban home that they think will better suit a family.
I have friends in both these cities raising young children. The cultural opportunities, social networks, convenience, and walkability of the neighborhoods add up to approximate a Village Effect, one that isn’t possible in drive-only gated communities. But even with these wonderful attributes, the 800 lb. gorilla in the room is schools, or more aptly, the perception of schools. I’m starting to lose lots of friends to suburbia as school rankings become the primary consideration in their housing choices.
We need to be planning, now, for a strategy to keep these young parents once their children are of school age. I believe downtown schooling is a glaring policy omission as well as a huge opportunity to make downtown West Palm Beach an even stronger place.
Let’s keep working to make West Palm Beach an even more walkable place welcoming to all stages of life.