The economic advantages to downtown from additional residential development are obvious for both landlords and businesses, but the social benefits are equally relevant. When people call downtown home, they are more likely to take an interest in downtown planning and to advocate for public-sector policies and investment. After all, these individuals represent a pool of voting constituents with a vested interest in their downtown neighborhood.
Increased numbers of downtown residents also lend a sense of vibrancy and activity on evenings and weekends when employees are away. Residents who live within walking distance increase the chance of spontaneous activities—such as music performances or athletic get-togethers—taking place in downtown. They also provide a reliable audience for casual events such as Mayville’s Yoga in the Park or Wausau’s First Thursday, shown at right. The presence of increased customers during previously off-peak hours can encourage businesses to add evening or weekend hours, thus creating a compelling environment for other visitors, further reinforcing this activity. Additionally, studies have shown that crime decreases in areas where perceived risk of discovery is greater, which is true when more people live in the area and are out and about on an around-the-clock basis.
There are, of course, potential negative implications of downtown residential development, many of which can be proactively addressed with foresight and outreach. Conflicts can occur between residents with early bedtimes and live music or performances at local restaurants or as part of public festivals. Similarly, poor planning for commercial buildout can result in noise or odor penetration into upper-floor residential spaces. On the public side, regulations may need to be updated to accommodate changing use of downtown spaces. Overnight parking policies and trash collection may need to be adjusted to accommodate different traffic patterns, and new infrastructure such as pet waste bags and trash receptacles can help mitigate other potential challenges.
Despite the challenges, downtown residents are overwhelmingly positive for the downtown economy, supporting a number of other desirable outcomes and initiatives while simultaneously restoring downtown to its historic function as a mixed-use neighborhood. What opportunities exist in your community to add residents? Are there vacant upper floors or underutilized parking lots? Be on the lookout for spaces that can transition from empty to vibrant with the arrival of someone who can call it home.