Archive | June, 2014

The Show Must Go On

12 Jun

Saving Independent Cinemas

As the perpetual progression of technology marches on, action sometimes becomes necessary to preserve relics that are important to the fabric of our communities. For many of us, local movie theaters have played a part in shaping shared experiences throughout our lives. The enormous, collective effort to save them from a recent threat demonstrates their value.

For over a century, cinemas have exhibited movies using film of various sizes. Most commonly, movies were printed on 35mm film and delivered to locations on 20-minute reels. While technological advancements have been changing how we’ve watched entertainment at home for many years, movie theaters have stayed largely the same until now. The studios that supply cinemas with their content have all but phased out film as a method of delivery in favor of digital content delivered on hard drives. This new method presents the incentives of lowered costs of production (it’s rather expensive to make a 35mm film print) and shipping (film is heavy to ship, hard drives are not) but, unfortunately, the shift has put many of our independent movie houses in jeopardy.

In order to show digital movies, it requires a completely new set of equipment, including a new digital projector, a custom server (i.e., computer), and a host of other modern accessories. Early in the digital conversion years, it was not unheard of for the price to convert one screen to approach, or even exceed, $70,000. That price tag was easy to absorb for the major theater companies, but nearly impossible for the small, community cinemas. And so, independent movie theaters did their best to hang on by showing the films they were still able to get and saving pennies for conversion. And waiting paid off.

Eventually, the price to convert was nearly cut in half. The projectors are more compact, designed for the smaller screen sizes often seen in independent cinemas, and more affordable. The shrinking cost of equipment and rise of crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Fort Collins-based Community Funded has made the goal of conversion attainable. With community support, many independent and family-owned cinemas have been able to stay open, increasing business for locally-owned establishments around them.

Locally, Downtown Colorado Inc.’s Save Our Screens effort has assisted in just these sorts of projects. NW Projection, a company based out of Portland, Oregon, has personally handled the conversion of the Storyville Cinema’s two screens in Salida and The Paradise Theatre in Paonia. The switch over includes removal of the 35mm equipment in place and installation of the new digital projector.  The process sounds daunting, but with a qualified installation company, the conversion can often take place in just a day or two.

The benefits of digital are immediate. Shows can be scheduled to run automatically. There are no more scratches or dirt on the screen. There are no more chunks of the film missing because of a previous malfunction. Now, audiences experience the presentation exactly as the filmmakers intended, with no imperfections. The 500th show is as impressive as the first.

The industry of cinema has changed drastically in the last ten years. Luckily, the spirit, persistence and ingenuity of the independent cinema owners remain intact. With the help of associations like DCI and qualified service companies like NW Projection, the local cinema’s screen will never go dark.


Northwest Projection & Sound, Inc. has successfully converted hundreds of theaters to digital, including two SOS locations. They provide service for theaters of all sizes with projection equipment service, installation and digital conversion, and can be reached at

Mobility Shifts in Downtowns

12 Jun

Cars, Pedestrians and Downtown Districts

Several years have passed since I last visited one of my favorite midsize cities, Charlottesville, Virginia. But I often think about the magnificent pedestrian mall that graces the downtown of this city. Known as the “Historic Downtown Mall,” it is the area’s heart of civic activity, featuring more than 120 shops and restaurants located in pristinely maintained historic buildings surrounding Old Main Street. Eclectic in feel, it reflects the ethos and vibe that define this university town.

For years, pedestrian thoroughfares experienced great appeal as centers of community vitality. Their beginnings date back to 1959, when Kalamazoo, Michigan, became the first American city to adopt one for its downtown area. From there, the pedestrian mall concept gained momentum as 220 cities followed suit, closing downtown thoroughfares to traffic and paving them with cobblestones. With retail establishments and eateries serving as points of attraction for residents and visitors, foot traffic and pedestrian vibrancy became abundant.

As early as five years ago, there was talk of a changing paradigm for these thoroughfares. A number of urban experts were quick to exclaim that pedestrian malls had lost their luster due in large part to the Great Recession. Examples abound of the decline of these walkable areas, leading to a lack of activity along what once may have been a vibrant pedestrian area.

Citing the popular belief at the time that automobile traffic serves as a magnet for economic activity, a number of cities such as the aforementioned Kalamazoo, Michigan reopened many of their downtown streets to vehicular traffic. The argument here is that retail activation tends to work better when there is vehicle access, visibility and parking near storefronts.

Today, there has been a resurgence of interest in pedestrianism and walkability within downtown corridors. Accompanying this fundamental shift in the way people ambulate around districts are new mobile phone-based technologies that facilitate pedestrian mobility from place to place. These tools are also useful in helping users identify area sites and amenities.  They include mobile based apps such as Fourquare, Yelp, Google Maps and Walkscore. Much of this has emerged in response to the desires of millennials and baby boomers alike seeking civic intelligence information, directing them to their local desires and interests.

For downtown leaders, this should be seen as good news. Why? In addition to cultivating an environment that encourages consumer foot traffic and economic activity, walk-friendly locales provide a forum for promoting healthy lifestyles and wellness. These new patterns suggest the advancement of good ole “foot power” as the new common denominator for place-based initiatives; one that downtown leaders and planners will increasingly be called to address in the years ahead.

Many downtown experts note that the on-the-go millennial crowd is largely behind this rapidly developing mind shift. Automotive industry company reports that young adults aged 18–34 purchased 30 percent fewer cars in 2007 than in 2011. And since the late 1990s, the share of automobile miles driven by Americans in their 20s has dropped from 20.8 percent to 13.7 percent. Bottom line: Growing numbers of young adults are choosing to nestle within and in close proximity to downtown center-city districts where density favors walking, bicycling, and other non-traditional modes of transportation. In their words cars “suck”; two feet “ROCK.”

Surprisingly many empty nesters are also walking in record numbers. Many are opting out of their restricted suburban ways and embracing downtown areas that offer easy walking access to dining, arts, sports venues and other lifestyle interests. Here, many are also capitalizing on the health benefits that ensue from active physical movement.

James Shaffer, president of Streetscapes, Inc., a Denver-based firm providing pedestrian amenities for public spaces, believes that downtown leaders and planners must keep a close eye on the mobility shifts occurring within their districts. This, he says, involves striking a delicate balance in terms of the coexistence of cars and pedestrians, both of which are vital to sustainable downtown vibrancy. “Creating a well thought out infrastructure that supports these two modes is vital. It is critical though to keep in mind the importance of creating inviting environments that truly engage those you are seeking to attract,” says Shaffer.

Shaffer has had first-hand experience with these issues through his stint as board president of WalkDenver, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to improving the pedestrian experience in Denver. And while acknowledging the value of mobile apps to facilitate downtown district walkability, he believes traditional wayfinding signage and directionals hold equal importance, particularly for those baby boomers who are reluctant to adopt mobile technologies.

Challenges notwithstanding, the reintegration of cars into pedestrian-friendly locales has a great deal of momentum behind it. However, there are still a number of holdouts in terms of exclusively walkable streetscapes. Pearl Street Mall in Boulder is obviously well known. Third Street Mall in Santa Monica, California represents another success story, with much of its foot traffic attributed to a highly targeted tourist market. And in another twist, the city of Montreal, Canada just announced that it will bar motor vehicles on a number of their vehicular stretches just for the spring and the summer, converting them into pedestrian havens for the enjoyment of those frequenting the area.

So in terms of this autocentric versus walkability convergence, clearly the more things change, the more things stay the same. But as the great urbanist Jane Jacobs once remarked, “Downtowns are for the people, not for the cars.”

Maybe that settles the score.


Michael Scott is the head content creator with Social Buzz For Cities, Inc. He writes white papers, blogs, and targeted thought pieces for a variety of clients in the urban/economic development space. He can be reached at or

All A-Twitter at the National Main Street Conference: What Inspired Conference Attendees?

3 Jun

nmscdetroitWhat were the buzzwords at this year’s Main Street Conference? Just over two weeks ago more than 1,400 community revitalization professionals nationwide turned out for the National Main Street Conference in Detroit. The conference was packed full of interesting insight, case studies and inspiration, but there were a handful of topics that really had people talking, or rather, tweeting.

After recently reading one blogger’s analysis of the trending tweets at the 2014 APA conference, this seemed like an interesting method for sharing the excitement and energy with those who were unable to attend the conference. An analysis of more than 100 tweets (#NMSCDetroit) during and post-conference reveals the trending topics that inspired conference-goers to share with their social media followers.

(Note: This analysis targeted the tweets that focused on sessions and session topics and does not include the tweets accompanied by enticing photos of local foods or about how cool the City of Detroit is. And, for those who have always heard otherwise, Detroit is actually very cool.)

Trending Topics at the 2014 National Main Street Conference, Detroit:

  • Placemaking (14%)
  • Public space (8%)
  • Historic preservation (7%)
  • Public art (7%)
  • Small business/retail (6%)
  • Crowdfunding (6%)
  • Hidden gems (5%)
  • Local foods/restaurants (5%)
  • Millennials (5%)
  • Tactical urbanism (4%)
  • Branding (4%)


  •  “A public arts or beautification strategy is not placemaking.” (@djronan)
  • “CNU and SmartGrowth welcome to placemaking that Main Street has been doing for 37 years.” (@auntjoby)
  • “MI Placemaking Curriculum: get your gov to believe #placemaking attracts talent and increases prosperity (@violetj)

Public Space:

  • “8-80 rule: make communities great by making them accessible for people ages 8-80 to walk to the park.” (@violetj)
  • “Move dining, art, and music outside. If your ordinances don’t allow it, change them.” #NMSCDetroit (@downtownokcinc)
  • “Program even the smallest spaces in your downtown. Don’t wait for a festival.” (@downtownokcinc)

Public Art:

  • “Public art installation combined w/ public seating, genius.” (@bricktown411)

Small Business/Retail:

  • “Time is the new luxury. 70% of shopping occurs after 5:00 pm. Don’t close your downtown to the opportunity.” (@rigterink1)

Hidden Gems:

  • “Celebrate your hidden gems and help visitors make a personal connection, then they’ll want to come back to live!” (@LMainStreet)


  • “Crisafulli: “Younger generations want to move to a cool place, and they’ll figure out their job situations later.” (@downtownokcinc)


  • “If you tell somebody about a great restaurant, they will drive 200 miles to your town,” says Tom Daldin of @UTRMichigan” (@MainStreetsConf)

Community Engagement:

  • “Volunteering in America has become known as ‘free labor’ it should be known as active leadership”  (@KearaHanlon)

Curious about what else had people talking at this year’s Main Street Conference? Check out #NMSCDetroit for more tweets.

Heather Garbo is the Director of Communications and Development for Downtown Colorado, Inc. Born and raised in metro Detroit, she was thrilled for the opportunity to return to her home state and learn about the exciting programs and innovative solutions that are revitalizing this community.