Mar 23, 2006

Center Cities

(Chicago, IL) It has been quite some time since I have walked in the busy downtown district of a major American city. When I have traveled in the recent past to a large city, it has been to a place like Detroit, which lacks a vibrant commercial and retail environment in its downtown business district.

While attending a composition conference at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago I took an hour to walk around the central business district. What an amazing sight it is to see many thousands of people shopping, running errands, and carrying on the business of the Windy City.

In a two-block square area with the Palmer House as the epicenter, I counted over 30 restaurants, 18 clothing stores, three drug stores, two theaters, and a grocery store. I also saw a half-dozen bars, a tobacconist, several jewelers, and a toupee boutique.

This list is just what I remember from a cursory parsing of my memory. Chicago’s panhandlers, too, are quite numerous, though I might add that they tend toward the unobtrusive. Toledo’s pedestrian financial solicitors, in the main, are more aggressive in their pursuit of alms; perhaps this is a function of the limited foot traffic in the Glass City.

This is also in stark contrast with the city in which I live: Toledo, Ohio. There are precious few retail establishments in the downtown area, as Toledoans have been trained to become mall denizens. Restaurants and bars thrive only when there is an event downtown, such as a Mud Hens game or a concert.

Admittedly Chicago is a bigger city than Toledo or even Detroit. Chicagoans, however, have actively worked to invest and improve their downtown business district, and view it as the very heart of the region.

Cities like Toledo and Detroit have not been able to create the sense of social necessity for their respective central cores. Suburban voices can often be heard agitating for urban devolution, or at least, allowing urban cores to die.

Walking around downtown Chicago, I could sense the civic pride in a vibrant downtown, and I paused to dream of a day when cities like Toledo can once again embrace a healthy downtown business district.


Stephanie said...

My city is currently endeavoring a downtown renovation project. It's controversial and takes a lot of effort and commitment, but imo is well-worth it. Having successful businesses running well downtown revitalizes an area that would otherwise go ignored in our area.

Calico Jack said...

stephanie: What's your city?

When I was about 14 or so I was downtown, waiting for a bus. A panhandler told me his pitable story, so I sorted through my change. I had forty cents to my name; Thirtyfive was earmarked for the bus. I gave the man a nickel, for which I got a dirty look and a sullen thanks. Well, it was all I could spare and still make it home.

I was pretty naive back then. I think the last time I offered a few bucks it was to buy a homeless man breakfast.

historymike said...

A panhandler has to catch me on the right day, Jack.

I am more inclined to toss some change to the quiet guy with a tin can than I am the aggressive "Hey-man-can-you-help-me-out" types.

I will also toss money to any musicians playing for dough - that seems like a more worthy form of behavior, because you at least get a moment's worth of entertainment.

Don said...

Does anyone have an opinion on the proposal to move UT's law school downtown? The idea is to rennovate the Berdan building across from 5/3 Field. I think it's a great idea that would bring a lot of young, talented people right into the heart of the city. It'd help the restaurants (and bars!), too. And, it's one less big empty building.

Stephanie said...

Sorry, Calico Jack, due to the behavioral patterns of some of Historymike's more nefarious visitors I will not answer that question on this site.

As for panhandling...

When my husband and I were newly married and living in Milwaukee (we do not live there currently, thank God!) we were walking home from the grocery store. A guy asked us for some money so he could buy something to eat. We said we couldn't do that, but our apartment was a block away and we were about to cook dinner. He was welcome to join us. He refused and asked us if we had any smokes, which we didn't.

Mr. Schwartz said...

Detroit is probably the worst major city when it comes to their downtown area for attracting tourist.

Baltimore, Philadelphia, & Atlanta all have really good portions of downtown that attract visitors but the other parts of those cities are a no-enter zone.

Another downtown area I remember being unfriendly was Youngstown, Ohio. Probably looks the way it did in 1920.

My favorite larger city has always been Denver.

Lloyd said...

Chicago is a neat town. I like the Cheescake Factory or some good Chicago style pizza.

I think the name of the most popular one is Gino's