A Philadelphia residential street

Why Urban Spaces Make You “Happy”

Despite losing an Academy Award to the song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen, the undisputed song of Spring 2014 has been “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The song not only topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for ten straight weeks, but also was Number 1 on five other US and 33 foreign charts. The song […]

Sherlock Holmes Statue in Edinburgh, Scotland (Kim Traynor, Wikimedia Commons)

Finding Your Inner Sherlock Holmes

“You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities has been hailed for many insights, but, in my mind, the most important one was that planners and policy makers need to observe and respond to […]

Truckee Railyard Master Plan Vision (Source: City of Truckee)

Truckee’s Railyard Project

While the City of Sacramento’s redevelopment plans for the 240-acre Downtown Railyards appear to be getting closer to reality, another railyard project is progressing 100 miles east along the route of the first transcontinental railroad in Downtown Truckee (CA).  The approximately 75-acre Truckee Railyard area, which is located on former Union Pacific property and the […]

Better Block Project on Grand Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri (Image: Better Block KC)

Building Better Downtowns One Block at a Time

For those living and working in depressed areas, one of the most difficult steps in achieving revitalization is to visualize a better future. Words and pictures can fail to capture the imagination. Plans may not seem to reflect resident sentiment. Time frames can be frustratingly long. Local governments may lack the funds for implementing improvements […]

Ten Amazing Real Reel Places

Ten Amazing Real Reel Places

As Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony shows, movies still have a strong power to transport us to places like mid-19th Century America in 12 Years a Slave, late 1970s New York and New Jersey in American Hustle, outer space in Gravity, and a near-future Los Angeles in Her. As impressive as those movies are in creating […]

University Avenue at Ramona Street, Palo Alto (Finlay McWalter, Wikimedia Commons)

The “Virtues” of Downtowns

Downtown Palo Alto, located in the heart of Silicon Valley and adjacent to Stanford University, is home to an unassuming two-story building at 165 University Avenue that was once home to Google, PayPal, and Logitech when they were small companies.  Music-recognition service company Shazam recently had their Silicon Valley headquarters in this building. Media, such […]

Ficklin Wilcox Wine Tasting Room in Midtown Sacramento

Local Taste: Tasting Rooms in Downtowns

Over the last thirty to forty years, the United States has seen a significant geographic expansion of the beer, wine, and spirits industries. Originally limited to traditional industry centers like Kentucky, Milwaukee, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and St. Louis, entrepreneurs have started breweries, distilleries, and wineries in other cities, regions, and states, particularly in […]

Jackalope Statue in Jackson, Wyoming

Herding Jackalopes: Dealing with Diverse Physical Environments

One of the quirkier pieces of American Western folklore is the “jackalope”. This mythical creature – a jackrabbit with the horns of antelope, deer, or goat – is based on a real virus that causes rabbits to grow horn-like growths. A small industry has grown from this legendary creature, including postcards, hunting licenses, mounted heads, […]

Universal Studios Singapore (source: Walter Lim, Wikicommons)

Sesame Street Grows Up

Since I grew up watching children’s television in the 1970s and 1980s, I was definitely intrigued by a recent poll asking the question: How did Sesame Street influence your childhood perceptions of urban neighborhoods? There is no question in my mind that Sesame Street gave me a positive view of urban neighborhoods. My childhood was […]

Apple Campus 2 in Cupertino, California

The Original Googleplex: The Economic Benefits of Downtowns

For centuries, downtowns in communities large and small have developed because face-to-face interaction is essential for economic and social development. When I heard about proposed Apple and Google campuses in California’s Silicon Valley, I was struck by how the supposedly innovative designs of these campuses and their focus on encouraging face-to-face interaction borrows heavily from […]

Reno's "The Biggest Little City in the World" Sign

Learning from Las Vegas and Reno: Characteristics of Good Gateway Signs

In my earlier discussion of urban landmarks, I mentioned two gateway signs that are nationally and internationally famous – the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign and Reno’s “The Biggest Little City in the World” sign. They not only inform visitors that they have arrived but help define Las Vegas and Reno for the […]

Banner in Downtown Angels Camp (CA)

Downtown Revitalization for Almost Free

The last five to six years have been peculiar for American downtowns. Continued evidence shows that developers, local governments, businesses, and the public have rediscovered downtowns as places to shop, work, experience culture, and live. At the same time, public revitalization efforts are becoming more difficult due to the slow pace of the economic recovery […]

Entrance to Downtown Plaza at K and 7th Streets

A Wish List for the New Sacramento Entertainment and Sports Complex

After decades of incremental change, Downtown Sacramento is on the verge of a dramatic transformation. State worker furloughs have ended, new restaurants and bars have opened, and the Convention Center is preparing expansion plans. The two most significant projects are the 240-acre Railyards, one of the country’s largest urban infill projects, and the Entertainment and […]

Mission Inn, Riverside, California

The “Science” of Downtown Planning and Placemaking

After several months off, I am pleased to re-launch the Downtowns Plus blog in a new format and start writing again about topics that are close to my heart: downtown planning and placemaking. My previous blog entries have examined these topics through the lens of both a practitioner and academic. I want to develop a […]

Placemaking on a Regional Scale: Does Sacramento Need Another Icon? Part 2

Placemaking on a Regional Scale: Does Sacramento Need Another Icon? Part 2

In my previous entry, I wrote about the importance of icons in conveying a positive image for regions and the need for new icons to promote the Sacramento region to potential new residents, visitors, and businesses. Sacramento is a blank slate for many people outside of California and northern Nevada, with the potential exception of […]

Chicago's Cloud Gate Sculpture

Placemaking on a Regional Scale: Does Sacramento Need Another Icon? Part 1

If you asked someone from another part of the country to describe one place in the Sacramento region, what do you think they would say? They would most likely be stumped to come up with an answer. If you asked someone from Minneapolis, Baltimore, or Dallas who had never visited San Francisco to describe a […]

The Effect of Commercial Street Pattern on Downtown Planning

The Effect of Commercial Street Pattern on Downtown Planning

The phrase “Main Street” has become synonymous with downtowns in small- and medium-sized American cities, from its use in popular culture, including movies, novels, and Disney theme parks, to politics to the Main Street approach for downtown revitalization. A linear “Main Street” exemplifies the commercial street pattern – the arrangement of commercial uses, particularly retail […]

Serial Vision: The Dynamic Downtown

Serial Vision: The Dynamic Downtown

Recently, I was walking through Downtown Jackson, a California Gold Rush town east of Stockton, when I was reminded of an urban design concept called serial vision. English architect and urban designer Gordon Cullen developed the term serial vision to describe what a pedestrian experiences when moving through a built environment. The pedestrian’s view continually […]

What Do We Mean By Placemaking?

What Do We Mean By Placemaking?

I grew up in two distinctly different agricultural landscapes, the flat corn and soybean fields of central Iowa and the rolling hills of wheat and lentils in southeast Washington state, and developed a strong attachment to both. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of family road trips across the United States and a trip […]

Downtown Davis (CA), a city downtown, serves the City of Davis and surrounding area and contains a mix of local financial, civic, cultural, retail, and residential uses

Types of Downtowns

In my last entry (What is a Downtown?: Changing Definitions for Changing Times), I included my definition of downtowns, which attempted to draw out the similarities between traditional and non-traditional downtowns of different shapes and sizes. While developing a single definition of a downtown provides a way to distinguish downtowns from other commercial areas, identifying […]

The role and character of downtowns has changed dramatically since the first half of the 20th century (Downtown Anaheim 1923)

What is a Downtown? Changing Definitions for Changing Times

Discussions about downtowns rarely ask the question: What is a downtown? The concept of a downtown is so ingrained in American culture that we can identify one much better than we can define it, bringing to mind Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote about obscenity: “…I know it when I see it.” The process of defining […]

Downtown Pleasanton (CA)

Welcome to Downtowns Plus

Welcome to Downtowns Plus, a blog on downtown planning and placemaking that discusses places throughout the United States, Canada, and the world, but is primarily focused on the Western United States. The blog will examine issues that concern downtowns of different sizes and in different settings (rural, suburban, urban), such as planning processes, zoning, urban […]