Future of U.S. Downtowns
October 17, 2023
More than 1,500 city leaders from across North America came together earlier this month in Chicago for the International Downtown Association’s (IDA) Annual Conference. The future of cities was front and center. Here are some of the key highlights from the conference and what they mean for DowntownFTL.
Demographic trends shaping the evolution of major cities.
Major demographics shifts are underway with 75% of the United States workforce projected to be of the millennial generation by 2027. Furthermore, U.S. population growth is slowing with the country projected to have more seniors than kids within the next 10 to 15 years.
While the United States is getting older, DowntownFTL is quickly becoming a top destination for kids and families. DowntownFTL’s youth and senior population is nearly identical. Residential growth has been mainly driven by an 85% increase in kids and families living downtown over the last 5 years.
Drivers of the post-pandemic recovery.
A common topic of interest was the trajectory of the post-pandemic recovery. New research was introduced that highlighted the main factors shaping the success of downtowns following COVID.
Most downtown populations nationally are now above pre-pandemic levels with growth also extending to near downtown neighborhoods.
Commuting patterns are one of the biggest drivers of return to office. Employees that live within 2 miles of the office returned at a rate of nearly 100%. Meanwhile, employees commuting more than 10 miles returned at a rate of around 40%.
Nationally, 60% of the foot traffic in major cities is tied to downtown visitors and only 10% to residents.
DowntownFTL has added about 7,000 new residents and 1,000 new hotel rooms since 2019, bringing a strong mix of residents, employees, and visitors to downtown daily. One of DowntownFTL’s strengths is its central location and direct connectivity to its surrounding neighborhoods. This advantage maximizes the share of downtown employees with short commutes, contributing to a return-to-office rate about 20 points better than the national average.
National public spaces renaissance.
Many of the fastest growing downtowns in the country have recently completed major park projects or are currently investing more than $100 million to enhance the public realm.
Not only does this renaissance extend to park building, it also is changing the way that downtown parks are being programmed. Residents want to be engaged daily. Downtown public spaces are now prioritizing routine programming and activations that are more intimate than the typical festival style event. More than $100 million of DowntownFTL park investments are planned or underway, creating a network of high-quality spaces.
Rethinking downtown real estate.
All dominant real estate requires fresh thinking to maximize downtown’s role as the social, collaborative, and connected gathering place for cities. This is especially true for the office environment. Leading employers and offices are asking themselves, “is my building commute ready?”
For employees, this means “is my office space a destination worthy place to spend time at?” Cool amenity decks, uniquely designed spaces, full-service gyms, great retail and dining options, and access to routine downtown programming for office workers are what is now expected. Spaces in DowntownFTL like The Main Las Olas and the future T3 FAT Village project embrace this thinking. These offices blend the line between living and working, mixing in retail as a major amenity.