Answering a few comments on “Entertainment Districts”

My last Strong Towns post was cross-posted in Better! Cities and Towns (formerly New Urban News). This is great, and I’m happy that I was able to get the article out there. There were a few comments on both sites and I wanted to take some time to respond.

The first comment:

“this article had to be written by an engineer.  vapid, sterile & looking for a pin in the ground.”

That is funny. I’m not an engineer. I have a degree in urban and regional planning, but I do work with engineers and they must be rubbing off on me. The next comment was a little more insightful.

Unfortunately, San Francisco does have an entertainment district of sorts called Fishermans Wharf, including a mall (Pier 39) with all kinds of simulated waterfront authenticity. I can’t speak to the finances of the area, but most people (at least the ones I know) consider Fishermans Wharf quite an embarassment and avoid it at all costs.

I dropped the ball on this one. In fact, I was at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 not too long ago. Below is a snapshot from my camera. It falls into the same category as the Power & Light District. Good urbanism, but something is missing. Odd, but I do remember people telling me to avoid it as if it was a side-of-the-road World’s Largest Ball of Yarn-type tourist trap.

The next comment is a good one, too:

Orlando has quite an entertainment district … which appears to be a button down office district during the day but comes alive late nigt.  There is a problem, however, of activating some of the area for office workers due to the large amounts of bars and clubs that are closed during the day.   And, with malls ringing the CBD, retail doesn’t have a draw unless it’s serving a very local need.

Recent experiences here have caused us to re-examine our ground floor requirements – making them more flexible, but requiring would-be bars and restaurants in the future to open by 12:00 PM 5 days a week.

This is a novel idea and I sort of like it: to have opening hours start earlier to hopefully bring a breath of life into a district (if only for a lunch period). Anyway, the commenter continues …

[skipped part of it, but you can read it here] … So, the my point is, if entertainment is your downtown’s bread and butter for ground floor uses, encourage it.  Better than being empty, and you may just appeal to the next generation. BTW:  Usually Generation X-ers and Y-s get labeled as 25 year olds by the baby boomers – we just look younger than you did.

Yes, I would agree that it is better than being empty. I’m still going to advocate for urban areas that are open to more than ‘entertainment’. I’m still holding that we need to accommodate for diversity in our neighborhoods and urban cores. Oh, and I just used “25 year olds” to illustrate a point, but I’m with you on that.

I’m going to abruptly transition to the next comment (this one is from the Strong Towns blog):

My father, civil engineer, former local planning commissioner and Kansas City resident, took me to see the Power and Light District a few years ago. My impression was “empty.” Because it is designed for entertainment for 25 year olds (or those who want to feel 25), it was completely devoid of people in the middle of a weekday. The enclosed space at the center – good for bands and other live entertainment – was spookily barren and didn’t encourage people walking through, let alone stopping.

The one interesting bit of development within the district was the Cosentino’s grocery store which was bustling. It had some underground parking, entrances from parking and the street, places for people to sit, buy lunch as well as shopping for home. There were office workers, families, old, young – just the sort of mix of people and uses (within a limited range of food/home related uses) which you reference.

That was a great comment. Thank you. I appreciate everyone who took their time to write a few sentences or paragraphs. I love the feedback. It’s always great to read comments from people who agree and disagree with what I have to say. Thanks again. -Nate