Thursday, November 29, 2012

Public vs. Private Amenities, or, the City vs. the Suburb

I've been thinking a lot lately about the differences between the city and the suburbs. Not the built environment, but the overall differences in philosophy of the two. I've come to the conclusion that a large part is this:

Private amenities vs. public amenities

The suburbs thrive on private amenities. Big houses, nice large yards, plenty of parking, available space for everything you'd ever want, right inside your home. Big, fat, wide roads where I can drive at high speed and get to where I'm going with no stops and no worries. Man, it's wonderful. I watch HGTV and am jealous of the large spaces, loads of fancy stuff, and plenty of room for everything available to the suburbs.

The city, on the other hand, is all about the public amenities. Cultural institutions, local restaurants, sports teams, and more all abound in the city. Due to the density of having lots of people nearby, and the accident of history - cities abound with public amenities.

That's not to say suburbs don't have some, of course they do. They simply don't have the same level that cities do, and never will, since most of these things are expensive to start and don't move well. Relocate that museum? Nah.

The implication for cities

The implication, then, is that cities need to promote their strengths - those cultural institutions and local flavor. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone - realize that a segment of the market doesn't mind a smaller house, a smaller yard, and no garage - but wants those public amenities in spades. 

Cities should invest in these institutions, walkable commercial districts, and local businesses. Instead of offering a TIF to CVS, Walgreens, or the next big company - use those funds to promote small business development, offer low cost loans, or more. Invest in those strengths that your market segment is looking for.

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