Making Town Centers Healthy

By Dom Nozzi

Town centers are made healthy with projects that add proximity, human scale, and mixed use density — each of which activates or energizes sidewalks with vibrant, interesting experiences that induce people to hang out and feel a sense of place, a sense of sociability, and sense of security.

This sort of design also promotes town center financial health through what economists call “agglomeration economies.”

Greenery (what James Howard Kunstler calls The Nature Band-Aid) tends to deaden a town center and kills both a sense of place, conviviality, and sense of security.

Sadly, nearly all calls to “improve” a town center are calls to add “greenery” or “open space” or parking. Nearly all US cities have far too much greenery and open space (and parking).

US cities over the past century have suffered mightily because almost no citizen, city staff person, or elected official understands much at all about what makes a town center healthy. Indeed, nearly all “remedies” proposed for the past century have harmed US town centers.

Tellingly, the great town centers in Europe that are so lovable that they draw people from all over the world have very little greenery, setbacks, open space (except piazzas!), or parking.

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