By Taylor Anderson
This is the third and final article in the series “The Case for Main Street”. The first article focused on the historical perspective – how and why our downtowns developed the way they did through the centuries. The second article focused on the financial perspective – how and why our downtowns are the most financially stable and productive properties in our community. This final article will focus on the community perspective – how and why our downtowns are the center for a community’s most important asset – the people.
How does a city achieve that feeling of a connected community? There are a number of ways to cultivate community and they all involve getting people together that see each other on a somewhat regular basis. In typical auto-dominant suburbs, schools have traditionally filled that role. While schools do a great job at creating that sense of community, as children age and eventually graduate from school, that sense of connection is often lost. For those without children, that sense of connection is often never felt. There is one place that can be the center of community for everyone regardless of age, income, or any of the other factors that can be an obstacle to creation of community in many other contexts – downtown.
Downtowns have functioned as the community gathering spot for centuries. In recent times, downtowns have created community through formal gatherings like festivals, farmers’ markets, governmental functions, concerts, and entertainment. Perhaps more importantly, downtowns create community through informal interactions – those happy accidental meetings among friends and neighbors at restaurants, shops, and strolls through downtown.
Well planned downtowns provide these opportunities in abundance. Downtown Sugar Hill, for example, already provides these opportunities through the Dawn P. Gober Community Plaza and The Bowl at Sugar Hill. Soon, the E Center will add to the fabric of our community with The Eagle Theatre, the gymnasium, a large public plaza and a variety of restaurants. Nearby communities have similar examples – Suwanee’s Town Center and Town Center Park, Duluth’s Town Green and Parson’s Alley and Lawrenceville’s Lawn and square.
Sugar Hill recently published the downtown master plan – a plan that has evolved and will continue to evolve over time. This plan is critical to our downtown and our city. It sets the basis of the organized and planned pattern of concentrated, appropriate density for our downtown. The plan, which gathered significant public input through formal and informal opportunities, is the culmination of what our citizens want downtown to look like over the next two to three decades. It’s also important to recognize that the downtown master plan covers just 0.4 square miles of the city’s 10.6 square miles. More than 96% of the city lies outside of the area covered by the downtown master plan – meaning that the plan achieved the goals of concentrated, appropriate density within the larger context of our city.
Following the financial perspective, it’s anticipated that the 4% of the city’s total land area within the downtown master plan will represent more than 30% of the city’s total assessed value when ultimately built out. This planned growth will provide the basis of a stable tax base for decades to come. The plan also provides for better connectivity through a more robust grid street network and mile 0 of the under construction Sugar Hill Greenway. These improvements will provide citizens with multiple options to visit the heart of their community – via walking, biking or using an automobile.
These three articles together represent the case for Main Street. From the historical, to the financial, to the community perspective, downtowns have been the focal point for community for centuries. Where development prioritizes people over the automobile, a successful community will be found.