Downtown now and in the future – what’s next?

Does it really still surprise us how fast the world continues to change and affect our daily lives? One example, this summer, you’ll be able to engage your solar-powered parking meter by swiping a card, and, should your appointment run late, add more time remotely from your smartphone. Soon to follow, the ability to recharge your electric car battery at a downtown meter.

Re-urbanization, young professionals and active retirees moving closer to the heart of the city, is resulting in less need to own a car. Downtown trolleys are making a comeback and use of public transit, bicycle commuting and old-fashioned walking are steadily increasing simply because they make sense. Car and bicycle-sharing programs promote low ownership costs.

Driven by technology, the future of retailing will be quite different requiring savvy merchants to adopt new interactive marketing strategies. Food establishments and retailers are experimenting with seasonal pop-up operations, selling from wagons and carts, and mobile food vending.

Public markets and farmers markets will increasingly serve as incubators for quick-moving trends and niche-product testing. Brick-and-mortar retailers are moving from static selling to interactive tactics using high-tech window displays, live mannequins, storefront activity, in-store special events and digital coupons.

Galleries and arts organizations are introducing geotagging programs. Geotagging goes a step farther than QR (quick read) codes. Distinctive arrows are placed around downtown that when looked at with a smartphone link with a story about that location or a suggestion to follow a certain path such as an art or gallery walk.

As downtowns move toward higher densities and a 24/7 economy, more interest is paid by stakeholders to how well downtown operates.

New lighting technologies make attention-getting holiday and year-round building enhancements economical without compromising dark-sky interests.

Some towns are addressing alley and access issues with alley master plans. Historic wall murals are gaining popularity because they visually tell a town’s story and differentiate the community from the next one down the road.

All these types of programs are addressing the observation that too much of a community’s creative attributes sits bottled up inside buildings. The downtown experience should become more interesting, enlivened, animated and engaging from the outside in. Why?

Because just as large chain retailers followed customers to the suburbs, they are now following their customers back into cities and into towns as small as 1,000 in population.

The trend means small communities and quaint downtowns will need to be more creative providing memorable shopping and dining experiences. Being a good place to live, work, shop and play used to be a worthy enough mission, but now it won’t even earn a seat at the table. Bob Kunkel is the downtown business development manager for the city of Durango.

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