A few months back Livabilty ranked the best downtowns nationwide. Greenville came in third on the list, which created quite amount of local fanfare. People like it when downtown Greenville gets mentioned in these kinds of lists.
Livability was scientific in its approach. Today, we are going to do a little exploring of the other cities in the top 10 to see what Greenville might learn from them.
No. 10 Evanston,Ill. A college town at heart, it shares a revitalization story similar to Greenville ( and most downtowns for that matter) as it went from dead to thriving in about 20 years. The story states that two decades ago, the only place that was open past 5 p.m. was a Burger King. My lone thought when I think of Evanston is when Northwestern students tore down the goalposts after another losing football game in the early 1980s and ran through downtown streets shouting “we’re the worst.” Today, it is different. “Evanston has added mixed-use and residential buildings in the heart of the Sherman Avenue commercial district. These apartments and condos have created a place for Northwestern’s students and other young singles and couples to live beyond graduation.” Greenville’s Takeaway: They are getting young people to move downtown. Greenville’s YP core wants to be downtown as well, but their demand is more than the market has to offer right now.
No. 9, Colorado Springs, Col. I typically have trouble liking places such as Colorado Springs because to me they are suburb communities of a much larger city. They get to draft of the success of being in a big metro, but don’t have the clutter of the old big city. Colorado Springs is an exception. “Modern buildings blend with historic architecture throughout the city’s downtown area, where flower pots and trees line pedestrian-friendly streets and statues, carvings and paintings adorn shop windows, parks and even medians.” This is a hip town. Greenville’s Takeaway: Mountains make a city, and we don’t have mountains to lure people. We do have a river. Always, remember we have a downtown river.
No. 8 Plano, Texas: I travel a lot and Texas has been a hot spot in the past few years. They have some kickass downtowns. I have wanted to get to Plano, but have not. I am apparently missing out. According to Livability, “During the 1980s, Downtown Plano’s business scene was sparse, with antiques stores and small clothing boutiques attracting shoppers. The addition of a light rail station connecting Plano to Dallas in 2002 helped get the downtown area back on track. Today, Historic Plano pulsates with a renewed energy that has brought in new offices, retail, restaurants and residents.” The pictures of downtown Plano also remind me of Greenville. Greenville’s Takeaway: We need a better transit system. I don’t mean anything stopgap. We need a system that really is thought out for future needs.
No. 7: Tempe, Ariz. “Finding things to do in Downtown Tempe is never difficult, thanks to the many entertainment venues and cultural centers. The Tempe Center for the Arts draws in art lovers with a series of live performance pieces that include symphony concerts, songwriters’ showcases, comedy shows and dances as well as a gallery with rotating exhibits,” according to the article. This is a very, very modern downtown based on the photos we have seen. It also is home to Arizona State University, which again gives it a very cool feel. However, despite the steel and glass, it has a natural allure with the Salt River flowing and the Tempe Buttes nearby. Greenville Takeaway: ASU dominates the landscape. Greenville will never be able to get that college town feel, but we can keep pushing for more satellite campuses of local colleges downtown.
No. 6 Boise, Idaho. Wait, Boise is on the list? If you are an average American, you likely think of potatoes, potatoes, potatoes when Boise, Idaho comes to mind. Don’t be fooled. This is one beautiful city that managed to stave off suburban sprawl. Downtown Boise rocks. “Two downtown farmers markets, the Capital City Public Market and the Boise Farmers Market, give residents broad choice for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, baked goods and crafts. Zoo Boise anchors a large area of riverside green space, which includes the Discovery Center of Idaho and the Idaho Black History Museum. Downtown Boise is also located next to Ann Morrison Park, a 153-acre green space with tennis courts, athletic fields, and gardens.” Greenville’s Takeaway: This is a state capital so they have a ton more government workers than Greenville has, but government workers don’t always stick around after 5 p.m.
No. 5 Pittsburgh, Pa. How bad was Pittsburgh in the 1980s? I lived in Scranton, and we made fun of how bad it was there. And not just because the Pirates mascot was busted for dealing drugs. The town was a wreck. But now, Pittsburgh has come back and better than ever. Why? “Parks and riverfront trails make living downtown an even more appealing option for people who like to be where the action is. Many downtown residents frequently visit Point State Park, a 36-acre green space located at the tip of the Golden Triangle, where the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers converge. The rivers provide chances to kayak and canoe.” That is just part of the story. The Greenville Chamber sent a group of folks to Pittsburgh a few years back, so that city’s growth is definitely on our radar. Greenville’s Takeaway: Pittsburgh’s hometown musician of choice is Donnie Iris. We have Edwin McCain. We win this one.
No. 4 Bellevue, Wash. Located across Lake Washington from Seattle, Bellevue is another city on the list that seems to draft of the success of being in a big metro area. The reality is for all the hype that Seattle has gotten, it has problems downtown. Bellevue doesn’t. This is a big downtown, which city planners have done a great job of making it coherent. “Covering 400 acres of the city, Downtown Bellevue includes 4.5 million square feet of retail and entertainment space and more than 9 million square feet of office space. Vacant or new homes and offices don’t stay on the market for long, yet prices allow more than half of the population to own or rent a home for no more than 30 percent of their annual incomes, a sign that Bellevue offers affordability.” Greenville’s Takeaway: For years, we wondered when downtown Greenville would expand beyond Main Street. It is happening now, and happening quickly. Bellevue is a good example of how to create a large downtown, but one that doesn’t feel disconnected.
No 3. Hey, it’s Greenville! And there is a picture of Reedy River Falls!
No. 2 Santa Monica, Cal. Obligatory mention that Santa Monica is/was the home of The Doors, but I don’t think even Morrison envisioned this SoCal town breaking on through as a great downtown. Wow, that was strained writing. “The city contains a large collection of arts-related businesses, parks and restaurants, and people living in Santa Monica spend more time out and about than those in other cities. Residents here tend to visit the downtown area and go out to eat nearly twice as often as the average U.S. citizen. A network of sidewalks, bike lanes and paths makes Santa Monica the most walkable city on this list. All 8 square miles of Santa Monica are easily navigated by foot, bike or skateboard. And surfboards 6 feet long or shorter are allowed on city buses.” Greenville’s Takeaway: This is one walkable downtown. We are close to that, but we can be better. Also, surfing on the Reedy needs to be a thing.
No 1. Alexandria, Va. I have been twice to this downtown. Once as a teen who somehow still got into bar. The last was a few years ago on the way to Mount Vernon (I am a history nerd). My vivid memory of both trips was red brick. Everything thing had red brick. It felt historic. “Old Town offers the sophistication you’d expect in a much larger city while presenting cozy comforts, such as the water bowls for dogs, set out on the sidewalks by local shop owners. Among the top things to do in Alexandria are strolling along the Potomac River, admiring the pieces being made at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and touring museums on Market Square.” Greenville’s Takeaway: Alexandria has earned a reputation as a food destination. We are working on that.