The Reinvention of the American Community

15 Sep

Guest author Roger Brooks will be speaking at DCI’s annual conference, Downtown Trends: Essential Community Responses to the New Economic Reality. Roger will be speaking on Thursday, Sept 23, at 8:30am.

By Roger Brooks, Destination Development International

Nearly every community in North America was originally founded on a natural resource or transportation. But the industrial revolution is over, and as communities lose their core industries, they are all working to diversify their economies. With over 85,000 communities and counties in North America, 1,500 of them set out every year to get a bigger piece of the pie. In short – competition has never been more fierce.

How does a community attract economic diversity? What is it people look for, when deciding where to move, start a business, invest, or visit? More and more, people are looking for quality of life – an attractive, vibrant community with plenty to do and active people to do them with. People are looking for that “Third Place” – a place to gather with friends and neighbors during their leisure time; to socialize, relax, shop, dine, and play together.

According to Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place), the “First Place” is where you live, your home. The “Second” is where you work. The “Third Place” is where you go to hang out, spend your leisure time. Throughout history, downtowns have provided an essential “Third Place” for their communities. If your downtown is a vibrant place where locals go to shop, dine and hang out, visitors will go too. But if locals don’t hang out there, visitors won’t either.

After decades of downtown decline with strip malls, expansive parking lots, and freeways, people want vibrant downtowns again. Whether they are visiting a new place or hanging out close to home, they want ambiance, entertainment, shopping, and good food. They want to stroll from shop to shop, sit at an umbrella table for coffee and people watching. They want places that are open late and offer things to do after dark. They want the sense of community that only a great downtown can offer. This is the age of “Third Places.”

How does a community bring their downtown to life? Turn it into a thriving “Third Place?” They have to focus on what makes their downtown unique. What is your downtown known for? What sets you apart? The days of being all things to all people are as long gone as the industrial revolution. Communities can no longer attract business, investment, residents or visitors by claiming to be “A great place to live, work and play.” That could apply to any one of those 85,000 communities. In order to win in this age of “Third Places,” you MUST jettison the generic. Being all things to all people does not mean you appeal to a wider audience. It means you get lost in the shuffle and become nothing to anyone.

Tourism is the front door to your non-tourism economic development efforts, and creating a great downtown is a big part of that process. Downtowns and tourism organizations should be joined at the hip. Working to create an inviting downtown will enhance all your tourism and economic development efforts, as well as creating that “Third Place” that locals and visitors are looking for.

The game has changed and competition is fierce. But there are key things you can do now to create a downtown that is vibrant and inviting. Stop trying to be all things to all people. Take what sets you apart and makes you unique, and run with it. Jettison the generic! And work towards creating a downtown that is a “Third Place.” If locals hang out there, visitors will too, leading to increased spending, thriving businesses and greater opportunity for the entire community.

One Response to “The Reinvention of the American Community”

  1. Jaime May 1, 2013 at 7:51 AM #

    Hello! I saw you on Twitter, then, one thing lead to another and here we are. I enjoyed reading this article and in the context you used “Third Place.” Thank you. I’ll be coming back and sharing as soon as I remember my wordpress password.


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