Picture a typical downtown in your mind. What do you see? Historically, it may have been soaring peaks of commercial skyscrapers, the bustle of commuters running to and from the office, and perhaps a local institution like a famed restaurant, theatre, or place of cultural significance. Most, however, wouldn’t immediately think of the people and the streets that form the foundations of a community. But that’s beginning to change.
Over the last century, cities have evolved from centers of industrial production reliant on heavy manufacturing and trade, to re-orienting themselves into centralized hubs focused on attracting corporate commuters who occupy small sections inside their borders from 9–5. In the last few years, we’ve begun to transition into a new epoch: The Era of the People. This era is not dependent on one economic sector, or concentration of one type of person for an abridged period of time.
This “People Era” is a resilient one focused on offering high qualities of life, access to opportunity & reducing inequities, sustainable solutions to city-building, and a prioritization of people over forces broadly antagonistic to individual self-determination. Cities are again becoming places to find opportunity, meet new friends, explore one’s passions, deepen one’s knowledge outside the bounds of institutions, try food from around the globe, or take in unique cultural attractions, but doing so for broader swathes of the population. Visualizations of this world may seem Utopian, but increasingly they’re the standard bearers for any place that wants to be competitive.
The transition into this era has been accelerated this past year as major cities have roared back from the darkest days of the pandemic. Much of this resiliency can be attributed to the flexible neighborhoods that were best able to adapt to meet the demands of a world where driving or going into the office were no longer the default ways of moving or working. In other words, the places most readily equipped to serve the needs of people first. Mixed-use areas have proven…