News from the Top

Despite Uncertainty, Future of Downtowns is Looking Up


For decades, urbanists, municipal officials and political leaders have predicted the demise of central business districts across North America, particularly in the United States, due to a range of external factors including the decline of downtown populations and tax base, white flight and suburbanization, rising incomes, increase in car ownership and rise in crime rates. By the 1970s, the effects of deindustrialization and economic stagnation crept across North America as central business districts saw a swift transition from manufacturing to the business services sector, creating an expectation that jobs are an essential component for downtowns to thrive and be successful, and largely continues to be held today.

As we move toward the end of 2022, we are faced with a new set of questions, challenges, and unknowns about the future of downtowns and urban places as we continue to grapple with the wide range of societal effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. Prioritizing public goods – such as public transit, public spaces including parks, parklets, and plazas, and public facilities and infrastructure which promote accessible and walkable communities – is more essential than ever as part of our intentional, place-based revitalization strategies in our downtowns to break the status quo and truly achieve an equitable and inclusive future like so many of our cities claim they want.

With the decline of daily foot traffic from white-collar office workers, an increase in vacancy rates, and uncertainty around the future of office spaces, it is critical that our political officials, public agencies and place-based organizations embrace agile mobility, parking, public realm and infrastructure solutions to create the next era for downtowns. The Parking and Mobility Top Issues Council explored these issues through the lenses of curbside management, mobility hubs, land use and policy, and parking management. Through the activation of public spaces, prioritization of multimodal initiatives, and availability of high-quality infrastructure to support the public realm, we can begin to shift people’s perceptions and stigmas about downtowns, both now and in the post-pandemic world.

To learn more about the 2022 Parking & Mobility Top Issues Council Report Brief, please visit IDA’s Publications page. The brief is free for IDA members.