By Renato Ghio
I say 2016 is the year for our downtown. It’s a bold statement, but I’m sticking to it.
Census data released at the beginning of last year showed that metropolitan areas across the United States grew at a faster rate than the rest of the country. Metro areas grew faster than the United States as a whole between 2012 and 2013 (0.9 percent compared with 0.7 percent). And, it seems that this trend back toward urban centers is coming from the younger generation. In fact, according to the Nielsen Company, 62 percent of millennials prefer to live in mixed-use communities found in urban centers, closer to shops, restaurants and the office. According to a report from economist Joe Cortright at City Observatory, a think tank based in Portland, Oregon, the number of college-educated people aged 25 to 34 moving to US city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even while those cities’ populations have shrunk slightly.
“There’s certainly a strong movement throughout the county, particularly with the younger demographic to call the urban core of cities their home (literally),” said P.J. Prunty, executive director of CityCenter Danbury.
What seems to be drawing young, well-educated people to these urban neighborhoods? The answer is a mix of commercial and cultural activities, walkability, bikeability and good transit service. Those raw elements are here, in our own Hat City downtown.
“This movement provides an excellent opportunity within our own community to capitalize on this visible trend. Downtown Danbury possesses many of the qualities needed for this type of trend to take off, such as easy access to transportation, great walkability of Main Street, along with a very diverse population,” noted Prunty, adding, “It’s evident that such steps have already been taken as the 374 luxury apartments located at Kennedy Flats have begun leasing just this month, with more developments likely to come.”
The problems facing our urban core are not necessarily unique; all cities face economic and societal problems. Regardless, the move back to urban living is happening. Yes, there is a long way to go. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but the ball is starting to roll. In fact, at the end of December, the first tenants didn’t just sign a lease, but actually moved into Kennedy Flats. And when school is in session (Paul Mitchell, Naugatuck Valley Community College and Western Connecticut State University) students create more hustle and bustle walking to and from classes. An influx of people coming to the city center means there will be greater demand for more places to go and things to do within walking distance.
I say why not be proactive and be a part of the revival. It’s certainly risky, but there has never been a better time in recent history to take advantage of downtown storefront and office space with affordable rents. We moved our studio to downtown not to be part of a “movement” or a “trend” but because we craved the urban vibe and the rent was extremely reasonable. Nearly four years later, we still can’t believe we waited so long to move here.