Swaine: Determining the Real Value of Downtown


A few years ago at a national Main Street America conference, my feelings about the importance of downtowns was jolted by a speaker named Joe Minicozzi of Urban3. Joe was coming to the stage on the heels of some pretty strong acts. The hotel conference rooms were filled with downtown rock stars; people like Brad Segal of Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.) who showed that every single global trend was pointing toward the continued re-emergence of downtowns, and Jeff Speck, former city planner and current author of the city-changing ‘Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time’.

Speaker after speaker talked about how downtowns were trending, how Millennials (and other age groups) were seeking to put down roots and start businesses in areas with vibrant downtowns, even how downtowns were key in making us happier and healthier. For those people at the conference who love downtowns and were already invested in revitalizing historic city centers, it was all simply validation of what we knew and what we felt that everyone should support. Reality bites. There are people who do not and will never care about Shreveport’s downtown’s —or any— downtown’s history or its generational importance, or will spend a moment worrying that a weak downtown is indicative of much larger community problems. These folks have never lived downtown, worked downtown or gone downtown, and have no intention of starting now. They see new construction in the suburbs, people in the stores, and money being spent there. For them, life is good.

These people are a big reason why Joe Minicozzi’s math is so important. On the phone recently, Joe and I chuckled about his ‘fifth grade math,’ but though simple, it is anything but comedic. Joe has created an analytic tool that shows very graphically where communities are getting the biggest bangs for their buck, and that really big bang is almost always centered in and near downtowns.

The gold is mined in dense mixed use development which is most often found in downtowns.

At that Main Street conference, Joe spent over an hour rattling off astounding statistics about triple-digit returns for mixed use projects downtown on a per acre basis versus big box stores in the far suburbs; and how those downtown projects create more jobs, more residents, and more taxes of every kind. At the end of the talk, the silence was deafening. Imagine 500 people from across the U.S. trying to absorb possibly the single most profound and compelling reason they had ever heard of why downtowns matter.

A group called Re-Form Shreveport wants everyone to hear Joe’s math and the city-wide changes those numbers could create. They are presenting two talks by Joe on Thursday, June 22; one a lunch talk at the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the other, a chance to hear him after work at Central Artstation. The talks are free, but a boxed lunch can be purchased for $10 and more information can be found at www.downtownshreveport.com. The Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Shreveport Development Corporation are sponsoring and we are looking forward to the conversation Joe’s trip to Shreveport will spur. You are officially invited; come be a part of it!

Liz Swaine is Director of Shreveport Downtown Development Authority