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Crittical Mass


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As we Planeteers know, the cores of many of our home cities are bending over backwards to revitalize their downtown areas and inner cities transforming them from the stark and bleakness of the 60's urban renewal and urban blight into great lively urban centers. Some have been successful while others are still works in progress. One of the many terms of the urban jargon I hear and have sometimes use is "Critical Mass" as in "The City of X-ville is seeking to help bring Critical Mass to its downtown area by advocating plans to build a Convention Center and Arena on the site of the former Such 'n Such factory." What is your definition of Critical Mass and has your town or city reached that point?

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I think this is an interesting question- but its one with many answers. Your "critical mass" is going to vary from place to place. There is also the issue of geography. Do you mean as a metro area? Do you mean as a core/urban area? Something else?

I'd say that there are probably certain thresholds for certain levels of 'critical mass' as a metro. Generally, I'd say you need at least 500,000 to bring in the larger chains, to have enough variety in your economy to keep things interesting, and to have a vibrant urban center.

This is just a pattern in the South that I have noticed. Typically the cities with at least 500k in their metro areas have or are developing a stong urban core, and are getting the attention of the larger national chains. They have lots of interesting neighborhoods and are seeing more and more growth as people grow tired of huge cities, and want something smaller, but that still offers a lot.

Each of South Carolina's largest 3 cities/metros (Charleston, Columbia, Greenville) fall into this category, though my hometown of Spartanburg does not. There is a noticably different level of activity in the cities that are smaller than those three. This trend seems to apply in Georgia too, just looking at what I know of Macon, Columbus, Augusta, and Savannah. The complication, however, is with multi-core metros. For example Spartanburg is often tied in with Greenville (as they used to be one metro), and there are many debates as to what level of influence my town has on our larger neighbor. You could arguably sustain more with two comparatively smaller cities if they have a combined that is well above the whatever threshold you are setting.

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I'd say critical mass is the amount of people needed for a self-sustaining environment. For example, Downtown Hartford was gutted of it's residential stock in the 60's and 70's. Nice skyscrapers went up, but none were devoted to residential. As a result, the city virtually closed down at 5PM, except for the bars. There are no laudromats, convenience stores, markets, etc, in downtown currently. In recent years, they have trying to achieve a critical mass of residential back in downtown, and as a result there is a market opening up, and hopefully the other amenities will follow. I don't think critical mass is a cieling, I think it is a floor, meaning the critical mass amount is the bare minimum for what is needed for a true living experience, anything beyond that is gravy. Just my opinion.

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I think downtown Minneapolis has reached its critical mass. The population of downtown has exceeded it's previous high in the early 1950s and new projects are going up all the time. With this there will be full service grocery stores and other necessity based stores.

Though the housing market has slowed down, it has really only stabilized and I think there will be self-sustained moderate growth for many years to come. Now that the housing market has heated to boiling, the office market is beginning to pick back up after a 10 year hiatus.

The fact that transit options are being added to downtown AFTER the explosive growth has begun just proves that this growth was not government driven. The government is simply responding to increased service needs and is adjusting accordingly.

When developers can turn chunks of high value real estate into a park because they know they can make more money off of neighboring property by doing so, you know you have reached critical mass.

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