Lifestyle and Urban Revitalization

Recently Fred Wilson wrote a blog post about urban revitalizations and highlighted what he thinks are the critical elements necessary for it to work:

We’ve seen that things can be turned around. The economic and cultural juggernaut that is Brooklyn right now is a perfect example. The grandchildren of the people who fled Brooklyn in the fifties and sixties are now coming back in droves, attracted to its lifestyle, its coffee shops, bars, restaurants, art and culture, parks, and affordable real estate. And the tech companies are coming too. Attracted by all the talent that is there.

I’ve been asked by civic leaders from places like Newark, Cleveland, Buffalo, and a number of other upstate NY cities that have suffered a similar fate how they can do the same thing. They all talk about tax incentives, connecting with local research universities, and providing startup capital. And I tell them that they are focusing on the wrong thing.

You have to lead with lifestyle. If you can’t make your city a place where the young mobile talent leaving college or grad school wants to go to start their career, meet someone, and build a life, all that other stuff doesn’t matter.

This immediately brought Winston-Salem to mind. The city's downtown is definitely enjoying a renaissance, but it's easy to forget how long the road has been and where it all began. Ten years ago when my family first moved to the Camel City there were tax incentives for restuaranteurs who set up shop downtown. I remember thinking it kind of odd because there didn't seem to be a whole lot that downtown offered outside of those restaurants and I wondered who would venture down just to eat. Some restaurants did indeed fail, but it ended up being a small, important piece of the downtown puzzle. Combined with the evolution of the arts scene on Trade Street, the growth of UNCSA's downtown presence, and yes, the maligned-at-the-time BB&T Ballpark project, you have the critical lifestyle element that Wilson identified in his piece. It's no wonder that people now want to live there (see the Nissen Building, Winston Lofts, etc.) and that businesses are moving to the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

In short, if you're looking for evidence that supports the importance of culture all you need to do is look downtown, whether in Winson-Salem, Durham or Brooklyn.


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