Downtown Upturn

Trends in demographics, culture, and global competition favor the redevelopment of downtowns and central cities, according to an economic analysis recently prepared to guide the Denver Downtown Area Plan. The document is one of the most insightful and comprehensive breakdowns of the challenges and opportunities confronting cities in the digital age.

Let's first look at demographics. Three generations will shape development in America for the next two decades, according to the analysis: 77 million baby boomers, 44 million Gen Xers, and 70 million Millenials. A significant portion of each group is fueling population growth in central cities as they pursue convenience and traditional neighborhood living, ethnic diversity, as well as access to technology and the innovative spirit of the city.

Then there's immigration and the fact that, according to the analysis, the United States is the only major growing industrial country with expanding population, primarily as a result of immigration. The U.S. - one of five major countries that welcomes immigrants as permanent residents - accepts approximately 800,000 immigrants each year. For many of these newcomers, the city is the portal to America.

Finally, there's the rise of what social scientist Richard Florida calls the Creative Class, and the notion that young, talented workers are attracted to hip, diverse, tolerant, vibrant, and ultimately fun, energetic places to live.

To capitalize on these changing demographics, Great Lakes cities - places like Gary, Muskegon, and Buffalo - must first revinest in their communities with urban projects such as mass transit and river cleanups that reverse the decline and decay of place.

Tomorrow: lifestyles.