Downtown Roanoke, VA

Downtown Roanoke is a very  intact downtown with much of its historic fabric and buildings still standing. The City also managed to keep its historic market, which has become a wonderful catalyst for the revitalization of the Downtown area. Many non-food related stores (boutiques, clothing, and specialty retail) have opened within or near the historic market. Outside of the Market District other parts of Dwtn are experiencing revitalization including Campbell St., Jefferson St.,  and the West Station Conversion. Just north of Downtown is the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, a historic hotel built by the Norfolk & Western railroad company next to their large station. This is a reminder that Roanoke used to be a major railroad town.

The Western and southern edges of Downtown are pretty underutilized but promise hope for additional revitalization efforts Dwtn. Fortunately there are still plenty of historic buildings in these areas that can help spark revitalization efforts before the market is ready for new construction.

Click here to view my Album on Flickr


* Very intact historic fabric.
* Vibrant historic market and district in the heart of Dwtn. In addition to restaurants & food stores there are plenty of boutiques and unique stores in the market district.
* Lots of recent renovations and rebirth Dwtn.


* Pretty limited skyline.
* Decent number of surface parking lots in the SW quadrant of Dwtn.
* So  density Downtown. Could certainly use a larger population to support important retail amenities like a supermarket.

Downtown Huntsville, AL

Dwtn Huntsville is contained mostly within the Lincoln/Monroe/Williams boulevard loop. Good urban fabric of mostly low and medium rise historic buildings in the core of Downtown around the court house and between Jefferson and Greene Streets. Out of this area, the urban fabric breaks down with lots of surface parking lots and autocentric uses. The Big Spring park development just west of the core is a decent modern appendage to the Dwtn core. Nice walking paths and park around a lake along with newer office/residential/hotel development. Big Springs, however, felts pretty suburban office park like. Some quality mixed-use development is popping up along Jefferson near the historic core of Dwtn. Hopefully more of this type of development is built to better fill out the dead spaces of Dwtn and expand its vibrant core.

Click here to view my Downtown Huntsville album on Flickr


* Nice in-tact historic core around the Court house and between Jefferson and Greene Streets for several blocks.
* Big Spring provides a great dwtn park seamlessly connected to the heart of Dwtn at Courthouse Square.
* Great cultural amenities typical of most southern Dwtns. More atypical is the dense concentration of museums.
* Decent retail amenities including the typical dwtn stores of banks, boutiques, creative stores, dessert shops, and gyms.
* Good parks.
 * Lots of early- mid 1800 century sites have been preserved.


* So  downtown residential base. About average for a southern Dwtn. Certainly is poised for more residential growth.
* Missing major retail amenities like a supermarket, drug store and Dwtn library and post office.
* Not a huge jobs presence. Office bldgs are pretty limited.
* Lots of surface parking & autocentric uses outside of the core of Dwtn.

Downtown Ann Arbor, MI

Downtown Ann Arbor is really the convergence of several historic commercial streets that create a small rectangle just west of the University of Michigan (i.e. Main Street, Huron, State, and Liberty Streets). Each one of these streets has a slight different character but all have great urban form and mixed-use development. One can easily argue that Downtown spills out a block beyond these streets as dense mixed-use development continues into adjacent urban neighborhoods and newer, more dense development has sprung up. Ashley, William, and Ann streets all have segments that feel increasingly as part of Downtown.

Downtown Ann Arbor captures the inputs of a large college town, burgeoning economy and growing MSA into a vibrant and compact urban environment. It shows that you can create a wonderful urban environment with a mix of low-rise and medium rise buildings as long as you have consistant mix-use buildings. Downtown also stiches together so well to the University of Michigan and other attractive urban districts (Old 4th Ward, Old West Side, Kerrytown, Germantown, and Burns Park) creating a pretty seamless urban environment.

Click here to view my Downtown album on Flickr


* Great mixed use environment.
* Vibrant, lots of people on the streets.
* Great cultural amenities including many restaurants, bars, cafes, a couple movie theaters, and several museums.
* Great architecture including many historic properties and quality urban infill.
* Very bike friendly and walkable environment.
* Very dense environment- about 20K per square mile.


* Not a huge jobs center.
* Only a couple walkable schools.
* Park space is limited.
* Housing is expensive

Downtown Knoxville, TN

Downtown Knoxville is a compact and well defined 1/2 square mile area set between 11th street, the Tennessee River, and  the inner belt. Like most American cities, dwtn is the oldest part of Knoxville and contains many of its oldest buildings. Downtown was largely a mixed residential commercial area until the 1890s. By the 1890s with the growth of the manufacturing sector,  Downtown  transformed into a place of commerce and wholesaling that sprung up along the railroad spreading out from Old City. The City quickly became the third largest wholesaling center by volume in the South. Like most American Dwtn’s the post WWII area wasn’t kind to Downtown Knoxville and Center City began to decline. Many efforts were made to bring back Dwtn. The first notable success was the 1982 World’s Fair. This left a legacy of a many new parks on Dwtn’s western Edge, a new convention center, museum, and the Sunsphere Observation Deck. Major positive changes to Downtown really picked up in the early 2000s with the renovation of Market Square, revitalization of the arts, and construction of a cineplex along Gay Street. Businesses and restaurants have continued to grow since then and Downtown Knoxville is now one of the best mid-sized Downtowns in America.

I attribute much of Dwtn Knoxville’s success to its compact size, density, and lack of widespread urban renewal. Like Dwtn Pittsburgh this compactness and intact urban fabric made it much easier to breathe new life and vibrancy into Dwtn. Dwtn also has a great array of for-sale condo options, lots of cultural and retail amenities, good parks & schools, a strong civic heart at Market Place, and a wonderful main street along Gay. However, as with almost all urban places in American, there are areas for improvement for Dwtn Knoxville including the need for more apartments and population, better bike infrastructure, more college presence, larger employment base, and an urban grocery store.

Click here to view my Downtown Knoxville Album on Flickr


* Other than the edges of Dwtn very comfortable sidewalks and great ADA infrastructure.
* Not best  grid but blocks are short, good connections, and wide boulevards are only on the edge of Dwtn.
* Great economic diversity with a sizable mix of young professionals and those under the poverty line.
* Good parks overall, especially Market Square (one of the best civic centers for a mid-sized city), the sizable collection of parks from the World’s Fair on the western edge a couple small-median sized parks spread throughout. 
* Decent K-12 schools 2 great high schools along the edges of Dwtn and several smaller grade schools.
* Good # and variety of for-sale hsg but generally pretty expensive. Plenty of 1-bed condos selling btwn 200K-500K, 2-beds sell anywhere btwn 300K-1.5M, Lots of 3 & 4 beds for a dwtn selling btwn 400K-2 M.
* Several affordable apt bldgs dwtn.
* Overall, generally a safe dwtn. Some crime and a lot of homeless seems to occur, but lots of eyes of the street.
* One of the most buzzing mid-sized Dwtns in America.
* Great cultural amenities Dwtn include a ton of restaurants, bars, and cafes; several breweries, tons of art galleries, a full cineplex, several performing arts theaters (a couple of them historic), a good # of museums and historic sites, and the Sunsphere observatory.
* Major regional amenities include the Knoxville Convention Center, the World’s Fair Exhibition Hall, UT Convention Center. The Knoxville Arena is located just east of Dwtn. Also a good concentration of government offices dwtn.
* Good retail amenities include a couple small grocerias, a couple drug stores, tons of boutiques & clothing stores, and home good stores, a couple book stores, a couple antique stores, tons of banks, lots of dessert joints, a couple gyms, several churches, and a dwtn post office and library.
* Much of Dwtn historic fabric has been preserved especially around Market Sq., Gay St., and Union Ave.
* Great imageability and sense of place esp. for a mid-sized dwtn.
* Good overall urban massing with limited surface lots and most bldgs up to the street.
* Pretty good tree canopy for a Dwtn area.


* Decent but not great density.
* Quality transit just extends to a  handful of neighborhoods surrounding Dwtn. Very extensive highway system considering how small Knoxville is. But most urbanist would not consider this a positive.
* Overall bike infrastructure is sub par in Knoxville. Limited bike sharing system. Limited dedicated bike lanes Dwtn, and some in the urban district. On a positive note, a couple lengthy bike lanes running along the Tennessee River, and a good east to west route.
* Limited racial and generational diversity dwtn.
* Rentals dwtn are a bit limited and generally on the pricey side. 1-beds lease btwn 1.5K-2.5K, 2-beds in the 2Ks & 3Ks, and 3-beds is very limited.
* Only a handful of satellite colleges amounting to maybe 1K students dwtn, but 28K students at University of Tennessee is only a mile away, and sometimes 1/2 away from dwtn.
* Okay employment numbers with around 22K employees dwtn. Office vacancy rate also seems to be dropping, but that’s pre-covid numbers.
* No grocery store dwtn.
* Urban in fill is okay. New mixed-use in-fill is along the edges of Dwtn. Most of Dwtn is in-fill from the 60s-90s. Big fan of the traditional in-fill of the courthouse. The tower lines up beautifully with Market St.
* Skyline is generally pretty bland, but thanks to the Sunsphere its not terrible.

Downtown West Palm Beach, FL

For the borders of Dwtn West Palm Beach I use Royal Palm Way as the southern boundary, Sapodilla Ave to the west, Banyan Blvd and Quadrille Blvd to the north and the bay to the east.

I divide Downtown West Palm Beach into three districts: City Place- the new urbanist/town center development west of Quadrille Blvd; Clematis St- the historic main street which dead ends into a great urban park; and everything north and south of Clematis St which is pretty dead and half developed.

Downtown West Palm Beach fell on pretty hard times in the 70s/80s due to crime and suburban sprawl issues. But like most American downtowns it saw re-birth in the 90s thanks to the preservation and renovation of the Clematis main street and the construction of City Place. Since those major improvements there has been a consistant trickle of new apartment buildings Downtown, slowly improving the viability of Dwtn as an urban neighborhood.

But to become a great urban district West Palm Beach needs significantly more mixed-use urban in-fill in the portions of Dwtn north and south of Clematis St, better bike infrastructure, more affordable rental options, and more retail options outside of Clematis and City Place.

Click here to view my Downtown West Palm Beach Album on Flickr


* Great density for a Downtown.
* Excellent ADA infrastructure and streetscaping along Clementis (historic main street) and the City Place Development. More hit or miss in other parts of dwtn with current ADA curbs often missing.
* Connectivity is generally good Dwtn but there are several wide, fast moving boulevards here.
* Generally a pretty high median income but also 25% of Dwtn residents are in poverty. Pretty good generational diversity and decent racial diversity.
* Decent amount of affordable housing options Dwtn.
* Good tree canopy throughout most of Dwtn, especially at City Place.
* Good park amenities overall with the riverfront running down the entire length of the bay attached is several larger parks. Centennial Park is the best park Dwtn with an amphitheater, fountains, large lawn, and space for farmer’s markets. City Plaza also has some attractive plazas spaces but small.
* Centennial Park functions as a quality civic space given its location at the end of Dwtn’s historic main street.
* Cultural amenities include a good array of restaurants, bars & cafes esp. concentrated at City Place & along Clematis; several art galleries (City Place), a cineplex, a couple performing arts center, and a comedy club, a couple music themed bars, several night clubs, and a couple of local museums. The convention center is located on the southern edge of Dwtn.
* Retail amenities include a Publixs and Gourmet Grocery store, several drug stores, many retail stores, boutiques and shops in the Square Shopping Mall; several boutiques/vintage stores on Clematis, several home good stores, plenty of banks, a couple of bookstores, tons of dessert shops & bakeries, lots of gyms, the main public library, and plenty of churches, and a major hospital is only 1/2 north of Dwtn.
* Overall this is a very safe dwtn.
* Decent college population of about 4-5K btwn PM Atlantic University & PM State College.
* Wonderful urban in-fill at City Centre. The rest Dwtn is a mix of bland 60-20s office bldgs and better modern high-rises.


* Public transit is only decent Dwtn and in a handful of districts surrounding it. Most the City of West Palm Beach of fair-poor public transit access. Transit access to surrounding suburbs is similar.
* Dedicated bike lanes within Downtown and the City of West Palm Beach are limited to mostly waterfront trails. Some good connections to the suburbs. Dwtn also just rolled out dedicated bike stations in only Dwtn.
* Decent access to schools including a really great Arts High School and a couple Christian elementary schools.
* For sale housing is generally pretty expensive but smaller condos are moderately priced. Studios sell around 200K, lots of 1-bed condos selling btwn 200K-500K, most 2-beds sell btwn 300K-700K but some in the Ms, 3-beds generally 500k- the low Ms.
* Rentals are more expensive with studios leasing in the 2Ks, 1-beds generally in the 2-3Ks, 2-beds generally 3-4Ks, and 3-beds around 5K.
* No sports arenas dwtn.
* Dwtn hosts around 30K employees. Less than Ft. Lauderdale but not terrible considering the City’s size.
* Retail amenities are highly concentrated at City Place and along Clematis. The rest of Dwtn isn’t terrible mixed-use.
* Skyline is pretty bland.
* Historic architecture is pretty much limited to Clematis with a scattering through the rest of Dwtn (not including City Place).
* Dwtn is pretty dead along its southern and northern edges. Lots of surface parking and vacant lots here. Great urban massing at City Centre and Clematis.

Downtown Ft. Lauderdale, FL

This is a very compact dwtn between S Federal Hwy and NW 2nd Ave, and NE 4th St and south to 6th Street below the New River.

Downtown Ft. Lauderdale is a thoroughly modern Downtown as almost all of its historic fabric has been wiped away. From the little I’ve read it appears Downtown was a rough place around WWII, which would explain why civic leaders were so aggressive in their urban renewal effects. In the post war era, Downtown was mainly a 9-5 office district. Safe but very sterile and dead in the evenings. With the renovation of Las Olas in the early 2000s restaurants and other entertainment venues started to pop up Downtown. The district also became a major residential area and current day Downtown Ft. Lauderdale hosts a sizable population.

Other than 2 supermarkets, Dwtn lacks most neighborhood retail amenities. Much of this fortunately exists to the east in the Beverley Heights neighborhood along Las Olas but this is a crucial urban need if Downtown Ft. Lauderdale is to become a quality urban district. Dwtn also needs better bike infrastructure, more walkable schools, a large student presence, more affordable rental options, better cultural amenities and the in-fill of many vacant lots and surface parking lots north of Broward Blvd and south of the New River.

Click here to view my Downtown Ft. Lauderdale album on Flickr


* Pretty good density of a Dwtn.
* Connectivity is generally pretty good Dwtn. There are some wider streets but none are 1-ways.
* High quality tree canopy.
* Interesting mix of high incomes and those in poverty.
* Good racial diversity and a pretty high % of family households living Dwtn similar to Dwtn Miami.
* Other than a large homeless population, Dwtn is very safe.
* Dwtn has nice parks including riverfront trails on both sides of the river, Stranaham Land Park, and Huizanga Plaza, which also functions as Dwtn’s Civic Plaza although not a spectacular one.
* Cultural amenities Dwtn include plenty of restaurants, some bars & cafes, a couple life music venues, a couple local museums; and plenty of night clubs, a major performing arts complex, an Imax & Science Center but all  in the adjacent Sailboat Bend. Dwtn also hosts the convention Center.
* Buildings can be tacky but generally good urban form. The newer construction is better that stuff built to the 2000s.
* Urban form and streetscaping are good in the core of dwtn. Lots of parking lots and underinvested streetscaping btwn Broward and 4th and south of the river.


* Ok system of bike lanes in Ft. Lauderdale and to adjacent suburbs. A small bike sharing system exist in Ft. Lauderdale with only a couple of stations dwtn.
* Public transit is only good Dwtn and in a handful of districts surrounding it. The City as a whole has decent transit access as well as the surrounding suburbs.
* ADA and sidewalk infrastructure is generally good but a good amount of curb cuts don’t have modern ADA curbs and some missing sidewalks in the north and southern edges of Dwtn.
* Almost no remaining historic architecture.
* Walkable schools are limited to a couple quality elementary schools on the eastern border of Dwtn.
* Rental housing is expensive with studios leasing in the low 2Ks, 1-beds btwn mid 2Ks-low4Ks, 2-beds 3Ks-5Ks, and some 3-beds generally leasing in the 5Ks.
* For sale is a bit more reasonable as there are a fair amount of moderately priced 1-bed condos selling btwn 300K-600K, 2-beds btwn 500K-2 M, 3 & 4 beds 600K-3M.
* Only a handful of satellite colleges dwtn. No more than a couple thousands students Dwtn.
* Missing cultural amenities include art galleries and there are not sports arenas Dwtn.
* Difficult to determine but it appears about 30-40K employees work in Dwtn Fr. Lauderdale. I saw a report mentioned 60K but I believe that was the “greater dwtn area”. Office vacancy rate is at about 20%.
* Dwtn retail amenities are limited to 2 Publixs, a couple of drug stores, plenty of banks, a Dwtn Library, a couple gyms and churches. All the retail amenities are east along Las Olas (which is walkable fyi).

Downtown Miami, FL

I included within my Downtown Miami evaluation anywhere between SE 15 and NE 15th Roads,1-95/NW 1st Ave to the west and the water to the east. This includes half of the Bricknell District.

Downtown Miami is the historic heart of Miami. Along with Coconut Grove, it is the oldest settled area of Miami, with early pioneer settlements dating to the early 19th century. But development really didn’t get started until the extension of the Flagler railroad in 1896.  Not surprisingly, there are only a handful of antique skyscrapers here and a small area remaining (btwn 1st SE and 2nd St NE) of concentrated historic structures. But Downtown Miami is in a boom cycle becoming the fast-growing area by population in the Miami area. This has particularly occurred in Bricknell, Miami’s densest and most complete urban district. Other housing concentrations are along the bay and in the Town Square sub district. Miami is one of the densest downtowns in America. Downtown also hosts a very high # of families for a Dwtn neighborhood certainly helped by having excellent schools and quality parks.

Downtown Miami is on the cusp of becoming an elite American Downtown. The area where it needs to improve the most is the filling in of vacant lots and surface parking lots north of the Miami River with in-fill. Miami could also improve pedestrian connections across the Miami River, clean up its sketchy spots, plant more trees, and provide more affordable rental housing. 

Click here to view my Downtown Miami Album on Flickr


* Great downtown density with around 22K per sq mile living here.
* Miami has very good public transit within the City and that service is generally at least decent in the suburbs northwards to Pompano Beach. North of here and south of South Miami is when quality public transit starts to peter off.
Dwtn transit score of 9.7. Miami City score of 8.5. Good transit in most suburbs up to Pompano Beach. So  north of here and so  south of Miami.
* Ok bike lanes within the City of Miami. More dedicated lanes outside of the City. Pretty good dedicated bike station system covering Dwtn + Miami neighborhoods along the bay + Miami beach.
* Great economic diversity and generational diversity. About 25% of all downtown households are households w/ children (very high for dwtns). Good racial diversity too.
* Excellent array of quality schools dwtn and not just private and charter schools but several well rated public schools.
* For Sale are generally expensive but tons of moderately priced product. studios sell anywhere btwn 150K-450K, 1-beds are very diverse in price ranging from 175K-1M and some even more expensive; similar situation with 2-beds with prices ranging anywhere from 200K- 2M ; lots of 3-bed product. Prices generally range from 450K-3M. Even a good number of 4 beds available.
* Given that 1/4 of dwtn residents are in poverty it appears Dwtn has many affordable apts.
* Dwtn anchored by Bayfront, Maurice Ferre, & Margaret Pace Parks. Handful of smaller parks.
* Good cultural amenities including  diverse restaurants, bars, cafes, and art galleries. Plenty of theaters ranging from community to professional, boutique theaters & a cineplex, lots of museums.
* Regional amenities include a Convention Center and the Miami Heat arena are Dwtn.
* Several satellite campus’s dwtn  but not major university presence. Probably 5-6K students dwtn.
* Solid employment #s with 170-200K office jobs. Strong rent demand still and very expensive.
* Retail amenities include 2 supermarkets, drug stores, a Marshalls, the expansive  Brickell City Centre (includes a Sac 5th, lots of clothing stores), Bayside Market (good array of shops but smaller & cheaper), plenty of boutiques, home goods & desserts, many banks & gyms, and a Dwtn library. 


* Connectivity is generally good but certainly several wider 1-way streets and poor connections (esp. for non cars) across the Miami River.
* Lots of rentals available but very expensive. Studios lease btwn 2K-4K, 1-beds is the same range but more product leasing in the 3Ks, 3-beds are plentiful but generally lease btwn 4K-10K with plenty even more expensive.
* Only one major league team plays dwtn.
* Some sketchy areas dwtn around Flagler where there is a high homeless population. These areas are esp. dangerous at night. But Bricknell and north of Flagler Avenue are safe areas.
* No stately post office
* Miami’s districts often lack strong distinction thanks to all the modern bldgs.
* Historic architecture is pretty limited but what does remain is nice.
* Urban massing is good in Bricknell but hit or miss north of the Miami River. Lots of open lots and surface parking still. Often a lack of cohesion.
* Tree canopy is so .
* Bricknell has a great buzz but north of the Miami River is hit or miss. 

Downtown Sacramento, CA

Downtown Sacramento is a pretty dynamic place thanks to a strong residential base, the local Civic Center, the California Capitol Park, a distinct historic district called “the Kay”, an entertainment district building around Golden 1 Arena, and the quaint and vibrant Old Sacramento along the Sacramento River. I also like how Downtown flows pretty seamlessly to surrounding urban districts located in Central Sacramento. Its nice that the inner belt wasn’t built too tight around Downtown.

The future is also bright for Downtown Sacramento as Civic leaders as moving to continue to built up its residential base, and bring more and more entertainment and retail amenities. I also like the fact that Downtown has few surface parking lots thanks to California’s strong real estate market. But there are several key urban elements Dwtn needs before it becomes a premiere US dwtn. This includes walkable K-12 schools, a university presence dwtn, more amenities for children, better affordable housing options, a stronger civic plaza marking the heart of Dwtn, a better skyline, and missing cultural and retail amenities including more theaters & art galleries, a dwtn post office, and a supermarket.

Click here to view my Downtown Sacramento album on Flickr


* Very good density for a Dwtn district.
* Great ADA and sidewalk infrastructure.
* Pockets of attractive historic architecture (i.e. Old Sacramento and Cathedral Square).
* Decent public transit access within the City especially Central Sacramento. Hit or miss with the suburbs.
* Excellent system of dedicated bike lanes across the whole region. One of the best systems in the country. While there are no dedicated bike stations, Lime provides excellent bike and scooter options throughout most of the City of Sacramento. Not so much in the suburbs.
* Very connective dwtn. Some large 1-way streets but not terrible.
* Great racial and economic diversity residing Dwtn.
* A decent # of affordable hsg units Dwtn. This is certainly reflected by dwtn’s high poverty rate among residents.
* Good number of parks anchored by the State Capitol Park. Several small/medium sized parks spread throughout Dwtn and some nice plazas at Dwtn Commons.
* Solid Dwtn cultural amenities including plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes, several live music venues, a cineplex, i-max, and historic movie house, a good array of museums, and couple historic homes.
* Regional amenities include a major convention center and an NBA arena and plenty of government office and courts thanks to being the state capitol.
* Dwtn has solid employment # hosting about 90K. Vacant rates also appear low, albeit these are pre-covid #s.
* Solid retail amenities as well including: a couple drug stores, a Macy’s; the DOCO Shopping Mall filled with tons of food & beverage stores, an urban outfitters, and several other retail outfits; tons of boutiques & gift shops in Old Sacramento; plenty of banks and dessert joins, a couple gyms & bookstores, a dwtn library, and several churches.
* Overall very good urban massing and good tree canopy for a dwtn.


* Not my family households living dwtn but a fair amount of museums and the NBA to draw them into Dwtn.
* Really no K-12 schools within dwtn although a handful exist on the edges of dwtn.
* Certainly an expensive place to purchase a house but a decent # of moderately priced 1-bed condos selling btwn 300K-600K. 2-beds sell anywhere btwn 400K-1M, and a decent # of 3-beds selling anywhere btwn 500K-800K.
* Rentals are a similar story… studios lease in the 1Ks-mid 2Ks, 1-beds in the 2Ks, 2-beds in the 2k and low 3Ks, and 3-bed rentals are pretty rare.
* Several plazas could function as Dwtn civic plaza, but not clear and well programed heart of Sacramento.
* Skyline has some tall buildings but they are pretty bland and the skyline overall lacks cohesion and interest.
* Largely missing from Dwtn’s cultural & entertainment scene include art galleries, only a couple of theaters,
* Missing retail amenities include a supermarket, major dwtn post office.
* Dwtn is generally safe but large homeless population.
* Only a handful of small satellite colleges dwtn. Any colleges of size are at least a couple miles away.
* In-fill is a mixed bag. High rises are generally pretty bland but pretty good medium sized infill.

Downtown Riverside, CA- the Cultural and Urban Hub of the Inland Emphire

I evaluated Downtown Riverside as a neighborhood because it’s really not a major job center with only about 10K jobs here. Dwtn Riverside is also a large area of about 2 square miles with about 65% of its use as traditional early 20th century residential streets.

Riverside was founded in the early 1870s and a traditional street grid was quickly laid out setting the foundation for a well connected and walkable neighborhood. Downtown Riverside is also the birthplace of the California citrus industry and home of the Mission Inn, the largest Mission Revival Style building in the United States. It also fills the roll of cultural and urban hub of the Inland Empire; a title that San Bernardino unfortunately cannot claim given how disinvested its become.  Downtown Riverside hosts a great concentration of cultural amenities, decent retail amenities, an interesting pedestrian street along a couple blocks of Main St., good public transit, quality schools, great parks, and attractive historic architecture representing well the main historic styles common in California. What Downtown Riverside primarily needs to become a great urban district is more people. Its density is only 4,500 per square mile. I was shocked at how few apartment bldgs there are dwtn. Outside of the business core, the historic residential areas are primarily single family homes. Additional density would go a long way to attract additional retail amenities and expanding the mixed-use footprint of Downtown.

Click here to view my Downtown Riverside album on Flickr


* Generally consistant sidewalks and curbs (except for western edge going up to the mountains) but curbs generally not ADA compliant.
* Great location for if you have a job in Dwtn Riverside, but only about 10K jobs there.
* Public transit is generally good Dwtn but some transit deserts in the western and northern sections.
* Several dedicated bike lanes Dwtn, including recreational trails along the river. No dedicated bike stations however.
* Great economic and racial diversity. Some households with children but nice mix of college students and young professionals.
* Several excellent parks Dwtn including the expansive Mt. Rubidoux Park and Fairmount Park on the western edge of the district, the gorgeous White Park located near the center and the pedestrian street/plaza covering several blocks of Main St.
* Decent # of schools dwtn and generally rated pretty well.
* Decent retail amenities including a couple medium sized Mexican grocery stores, several drug stores, a bookstore, plenty of quirky boutiques, antiques, home goods and gift shops, several banks, plenty of dessert stores, a dwtn post office & public library, plenty of churches, and large hospital on Dwtn’s southern border.
* Dwtn Riverside is generally considered safe but some areas are best to avoid at night.
* Overall quality historic architecture both in the Business districts (Esp. with all the Spanish based mission architecture) and in the residential neighborhoods.
* Pedestrian traffic good in the core of dwtn. Pretty sparse in the res. areas.
* Good culturally amenities Dwtn including a plethora of restaurants, bars, & cafes, lots of art galleries, several live music venues & night clubs, a convention center, a couple performing arts theaters, and several museums and historic sites.


* Density is rather low.
* Hsg is pretty expensive but similar to other stable inner city neighborhoods. Limited 1-bed product. Surprisingly there are few condos dwtn. What does exist sells around 400-500K, 2-beds sell btwn 300K-650K, 3 & 4 beds 400K-1 M.
* Rentals are surprisingly limited. What is available seems to lease in the 2-3Ks.
* Urban form is a mixed-bag in Dwtn Riverside. Mission  Inn Avenue has the best form, Market Street is a mixed bag, the smaller streets btwn 14th and 5th Streets are more “dwtn” in feel and a mix of surface parking lots, office towners, and areas of decent urban form. Main St in the northern half of dwtn is awful. 

Downtown San Bernardino- A struggling Downtown in the heart of the Inland Empire

I used smaller boundaries than what is typically considered Dwtn Bernardino. I feel this better captures what should be considered a “downtown”. I decided to evaluate this as a neighborhood as Dwtn Bernardino is not a major job center and lacks many of the qualifications of a typical major city Dwtn. The boundaries I used include I-215, Sierra Way, 5th St., and Rialto Ave.

San Bernardino really came to form starting in the late 19th century as the City proved to be an important  commercial hub at the crossroads between Southern California and the American Southwest. This helps explain why San Bernardino has such a large historic railroad station. The City reached 13K residents in 1910 and 43K by 40K. Since then San Bernardino has continued to sprawl and now hosts around 220K residents. Sadly, the City, especially the urban core has fallen on hard times. The City filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2012 after having more than 1 Billion in debt.  Even through these challenges San Bernardino remains an important regional hub for the Inland Empire and hosts multiple consulates for Hispanic countries, due it is large Latino immigrant population.

While once a thriving and well built urban environment, Dwtn San Bernardino is a former shadow of itself. Only chunks of the original historic fabric remain. Most of historic San Bernardino was removed for parking, government office towers, or the failed Carousel Mall. Dwtn currently feels like a drivable Dwtn that permits pedestrians to exist if they choose. But there are still some positives not to overlook. Downtown has good ADA infrastructure, excellent public transit access, several walkable schools, decent cultural and retail amenities, and good parks. There are major plans underway to redevelop the former Carousel mall into a lively mixed-use hub. Hopefully this can succeed and pave the wave to an attractive Downtown San Bernardino again. There is just too much development pressure in Southern California for this dwtn to languish.

Click here to view my Dwtn San Bernardino album on Flickr


* Pretty good ADA infrastructure.
* Excellent public transit access.
* Walkable access to some jobs in Dwtn San Bernardino. Convenient 15 mins drive to Riverside and 45 bus ride.
* Very Hispanic population but good racial diversity overall. Also a surprisingly high number of households with Children Dwtn.
* Several walkable schools in the Dwtn area with decent ratings.
* Several Housing Authority Sites in the Dwtn area.
* Ok Cultural amenities. Only a handful of restaurants & bars, a couple cafes a cineplex, historic performing arts theater, a couple art galleries, and a couple night clubs/live music venues.
* Decent Retail Amenities as well including a budget supermarket, a drug store, a suburban power center on the southern edge of dwtn includes many retail stores, handful of boutiques & consignment stores, lots of gov’t offices and court houses, several banks, dwtn post office & public library.
* Not much hsg dwtn but a decent mix of retail, governmental bldgs, and entertainment venues.
* Several good park amenities most notably the large Seccome Lake Recreation Area. Meadowbrook Park is another decent sized park and there are several plaza spaces spread throughout dwtn.


* Very low density. This is partially attributable to this being rather Dwtn in character with limited residential bldgs.
* Poor bike infrastructure Dwtn with few dedicated bike lanes and not bike stations.
* While there is good public transit dwtn I can’t say this is a very walkable neighborhood given how auto oriented it is with half the land dedicated to parking lots.
* Very impoverished area with 35% living below the poverty line.
* Rental housing is fairly inexpensive for CA standards but very little of it Dwtn.
* Some for sale product in the Dwtn area. 1-bed condos sell btwn 60K-200K, 2-beds sell btwn 100K-400K, 3 & 4 beds btwn 300K-500K.
* San Bernardino is pretty notorious for high crime rate. This certainly pours into dwtn, but a bit more activity here so doesn’t feel terribly unsafe.
* Some blocks of historic fabric but much of dwtn is surface parking and lots of auto centric fabric.
 * Lots of auto centric crap but some interesting 70s & 80s in fill.
* What remains of Dwtn’s historic architecture is decent, but so much has been demolished.
* No real heart to Dwtn Bernardino. Imageability is pretty poor.
* Not great vibrancy dwtn as most people drive
* Tree canopy is so