Ania Wieckowski of the Harvard Business Review brings us this article on why companies are returning to downtown locations. United Airlines and Quicken are moving downtown (to Chicago and Detroit, respectively), and Walgreens is buying Duane Reade, a New York City drugstore chain, indicating their interest in inner cities. These companies are ahead of the upcoming transition away from suburbia and toward cities, and companies and municipalities that don’t understand this shift will be left behind. Whereas the suburbs where the exciting new frontier in the 1950’s and cities were dirty, run-down places that everyone wanted to leave, cities are the center of new and exciting developments and will continue to be for many years.
This change is partially due to taste, but mostly due to the exposure of the shortcomings of the suburbs. Wieckowski cites the suburban link to obesity and the negative mood created by commuting. She mentions the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and their work to combat these ills, partially by putting uses closer together and by creating places for pedestrians and cyclists.
Companies should invest in cities to make them more attractive to talented workers. Wieckowski specifically mentions that funding education in a city can lead to massive profits. She also indicates that many corporations that are used to strip mall operations would need to update some of their plans to compete in cities. Buildings should be designed without parking and highway visibility as a priority and instead adapt to smaller blocks, building on multiple stories. As far as marketing, branding is less important than creating connections with customers and the community. This is also indicative of the shift to the experience economy. We can hope that more businesses will have the necessary forethought to begin reinvesting in cities.