Downtown turnaround? In these places, yes.

Downtown Minneapolis (Photo: Dan Anderson)

For decades, “going downtown” meant something special – probably from its very first use as a term to describe the lower tip of Manhattan, which was then New York City’s heart of business, commercial and residential life.

Downtown was literally “where it was at” – jobs, shopping, cultural attractions and all.

But then, beginning in post-World War II America, many downtowns lost their luster, as people were drawn to the suburbs thanks to cheap land and easy means to traveling to and fro.

In some places, downtowns and the areas immediately adjoining them became places of high crime, industrial decay, shopworn appearances and various socio-economic pathologies.

Things hit rock bottom in the late 1970s, as personified by the Times Square area of New York City. But since then, many downtowns have slowly come back from those near-death experiences, spurred by new types of residents with new and different priorities.

Dan Cort, author of the book Downtown Turnaround, describes it this way:  “People – young ones especially – love historical buildings that reintroduce them to the past.  They want to live where they can walk out of the house, work out, go to a café, and still walk to work.”

There are a number of cities where the downtown areas have come back in the big way over the past several decades. Everyone knows which ones they are:  New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis …

But what about the latest success stories? Which downtowns are those?

Recently, Realtor.com analyzed the 200 largest cities in the United States to determine which ones have the made the biggest turnaround since 2012. To determine the biggest successes, it studied the following factors:

  • Downtown residential population growth
  • Growth in the number of restaurants, bars, grocery stores and food trucks per capita
  • Growth in the number of independent realtors per capita
  • Growth in the number of jobs per capita
  • Home price appreciation since 2012 (limited to cities where the 2012 median home price was $400,000 or lower)
  • Price premium of purchasing a home in the downtown district compared with the median home price of the whole city
  • Residential and commercial vacancy rates

Based on these criteria, Realtor.com’s list of the Top 10 cities where downtown is making a comeback are these:

  • #1 Pittsburgh, PA
  • #2 Indianapolis, IN
  • #3 Oakland, CA
  • #4 Detroit, MI
  • #5 Columbus, OH
  • #6 Austin, TX
  • #7 Los Angeles, CA
  • #8 Dallas, TX
  • #9 Chicago, IL
  • #10 Providence, RI

Some of these may surprise you. But it’s interesting to see some of the stats that are behind the rankings.  For instance, look at what’s happened to median home prices in some of these downtown districts since 2012:

  • Detroit: +150%
  • Oakland: +111%
  • Los Angeles: +63%
  • Pittsburgh: +31%

And residential population growth has been particularly strong here:

  • Pittsburgh: +32%
  • Austin: +25%
  • Dallas: +25%
  • Chicago: +21%

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see if the downtown revitalization trend continues – and spreads to more large cities.

And what about America’s medium-sized cities, where downtown zones continue to struggle. If you’ve been to Midwestern cities like Kokomo, IN, Flint, MI or Lima, OH, those downtowns look particularly bleak.  Can the sort of revitalization we see in the major urban centers be replicated there?

I have my doubts … but what is your opinion? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Condé Nast Traveler and its readers weigh in on America’s friendliest and unfriendliest cities.

The usual suspects … and a few surprises as well?

cntPeople say there’s wisdom in crowds.

If that’s the case, then the ~128,000 people who participated in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards survey in 2015 must count for something when it comes to which cities are America’s friendliest.

… And the survey results show that if you want to find America’s friendliest folks, head south and west.

That is correct: Of the ten cities rated the most friendly, just one is located in the Northeast … and absolutely none are in the Midwest.

For the record, here are the ten friendliest American cities based on the Condé Nast survey:C

  • #1 Charleston, SC America’s friendliest city
  • #2 Park City, UT
  • #3 Savannah, GA
  • #4 Nashville, TN
  • #5 Austin, TX
  • #6 Santa Fe, NM
  • #7 Asheville, NC
  • #8 Jackson (Jackson Hole), WY
  • #9 New Orleans, LA
  • #10 Burlington, VT

Of course, there are also the ten unfriendliest cities as determined from the same survey — no doubt the subject of just as much curiosity.

Those seem to be just as clustered — but elsewhere — primarily in the Northeast, but also a few in California.  And Detroit, too:n

  • #1 Newark, NJ America’s unfriendliest city
  • #2 Oakland, CA
  • #3 Atlantic City, NJ
  • #4 Detroit, MI
  • #5 Hartford, CT
  • #6 New Haven, CT
  • #7 Dover, DE
  • #8 Wilmington, DE
  • #9 Los Angeles, CA
  • #10 Baltimore, MD

I have no earthly idea if these rankings are accurate or not; it’s actually well-nigh impossible to have a definitive listing based on a ranking criterion that’s so subjective.

But having lived in both Nashville and Baltimore — and having visited 13 of the other 18 cities — I do get a sense of where the Condé Nast survey respondents are coming from.

How about you? Do you think that any of these cities are unfairly ranked?  And what other cities do you think should have made it on either list?  Like New York City or Philadelphia, for instance?

Incidentally, the 2016 Readers’ Choice Survey results are currently being tabulated and are due to be published in October.  It will be interesting to see if there are any big changes in the listings …