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Three myths about downtown development

Myth #2: Downtown is only a commercial zone

Every downtown started as a marketplace. For every city. It was the place where supplies and materials were brought into the town or city and therefore where the merchants assembled to serve the community. It was also where people went to meet others in the community. Most downtowns go through similar development processes.

For example, I was amazed years ago when a friend of mine showed me a map of the waterways in North America. He was demonstrating that because supplies were originally brought in by ship, every major city established before the mid-twentieth century was accessible by water. All of their downtowns therefore had direct access to water. The Destination Development Association, in discussing the death of American downtowns, shows that over the years this reliance on the delivery of supplies and materials caused many downtowns to turn their backs on the waterfront as the rail systems superseded the water as the source of supply. Then came the regional and suburban malls, which replaced the downtown as the centers of commerce, further affecting the health of downtowns.

But many of those downtowns are now back. The reason is that downtowns are no longer just a commercial center. What started as a commercial center has become an expression of the character and personality of the people of the city, providing them with several social and cultural benefits that the mall could not. Cities have begun to rediscover themselves in their downtowns and to reclaim their self-esteem in the process.

So downtown is definitely a commercial center but it is much more. Besides the need for commerce, here are four key responsibilities a downtown must now provide for the people of the community.

The symbols of order

The downtown provides the community with the elements of government and the keeping of order.

• City hall or house of assembly;

• Courts and elements of the justice system;

• Orderly patterns of movement;

• Places for orderly public assembly.

The celebration of the
community’s history

The downtown provides a repository for the record of the histories of the various peoples of the community.

• Historical monuments;

• Historical museums;

• Tributes to significant events and persons in national history;

• Preservation of buildings and places of historical significance;

A celebration of the achievements of the people of the community

The Bahamas has proven that it is an exceptional country having outperformed many of the countries of the world on the global stage in sports, academia, theater and global influence. Yet Bahamians have neglected the celebration of their own prowess to the detriment of our national self-esteem. Elements of the physical downtown must celebrate this superiority.

• Monuments to significant accomplishment (Olympics, Academy Awards etc.);

• Examples of technological and environmental prowess (Most sophisticated structures, largest or richest buildings beat design etc.).

A celebration of the culture of the community

The personality of the community is expressed through its cultural expressions. Especially for the transmission of traditions and values, the telling of the community’s story must be urgent for any country seeking to develop itself. The downtown must provide opportunities for both the expression of this uniqueness and for the appreciation of it.

• Architectural and planning styles;

• Art and craft galleries;

• Theaters, concert halls and festival places;

• Art, craft and local produce markets;

• A predominance of trade in locally produced items.

These four products of the community’s identity, added to the need for a zone of commerce, are fundamental to the establishment and maintenance of a sustainable downtown today. While the area is certainly a zone of commerce, its value to the society is far more. The downtown expresses the whole identity of the people of the community.

• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress. com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at pradesigns@yahoo.com or prahming@gmail.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.

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