news • Nov 29 2023

Back to Business: The Transformative Power of Business Districts

The way neighborhoods, towns and cities are planned is constantly evolving. Throughout the country, areas that previously faced economic downturns or decreased foot traffic are quickly rising to become new vessels of life. By utilizing spaces that need new stimulation, planners are creating districts that specialize in unique genres. As a result, they’re revolutionizing cities and creating a brighter future for all involved.


Central Business Districts (CBDs)

It’s no secret that America’s downtowns struggled during and after the pandemic. After all, with less foot traffic and a drop in office occupancy, hustle and bustle hit a minimum. While some areas have slowly regained traction, the experience has highlighted a need to rethink the way we consider urban planning. 

Central Business Districts contain a variety of commercial spaces and offices. They’re often known for their accessibility and diverse offerings, like restaurants and clothing stores. As we look into the post-pandemic future, city planning experts say the future of downtown areas will be the prominence of central business districts. That’s why it’s no surprise that they’re popping up all over, and sometimes in places that aren’t entirely expected. 

Pittsfield, an industrial city in western Massachusetts, has a wonderful example of a central business district currently on the rise. Known as the home of General Electric for decades, the city struggled to maintain its vitality once the company left. Fast forward to the present day, and a 52-acre innovation district is currently in the works. By consciously curating the establishments within the space, it’s creating a whole new environment. 

“Let’s be really thoughtful about how we attract and consolidate innovation-focused companies, tech-enabled companies so that layering creates that center of gravity that grows and grows,” Ben Sosne, executive director of the Berkshire Innovation Center, told BostInno

Pittsfield certainly isn’t the only place where CBDs are growing. The Detroit Innovation District is a 4.4-square-mile space developed to expand the city’s creative, information technology and innovation sectors. At the same time, it’s strengthening Detroit’s industrial infrastructure and businesses. Similarly, the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle is in the process of becoming a science cluster, boasting biotech companies and a location of the Allen Institute, Geekwire reported. Across the country, central business districts are creating an exciting new future. 


Inclusive Districts

Sometimes we have to look to the past to determine how we’re going to build the future. A strong example of that is with the expansion of inclusive districts. Boston’s Nubian Square, formerly known as Dudley Square, was once considered the epicenter of Black culture in Boston. But over time, its space has been slowly chopped away for several reasons, ranging from decreased square footage to removal of public transportation. 

Recently, everyone from business tycoons to Celtics star Jaylen Brown have spoken about how they want to turn Nubian Square into the next Black Wall Street. With a prime central location in Roxbury and existing shops and restaurants, the boost of housing, labs, job training, and commercial spaces could transform Nubian Square into a unique genre of central business district that focuses on inclusivity. 

Another example is Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, where 45-50% of development, construction, and operations contracts will be awarded to minority- and women-owned companies. 


Entertainment Districts

Sports and entertainment are major money makers for cities. Whether it’s an arena that reels in families and students for lively hockey games or the gambling hotspot that is the Las Vegas Strip, entertainment districts play a vital role in the success of a city. 

In Norman, Oklahoma, a $1 billion sports entertainment district is in the works. Based on the tremendous popularity of Oklahoma University’s athletic teams, the area will feature everything from a new sports arena and a performance venue to retail shops, restaurants, bars, offices, a hotel and housing. 

Similarly, Milwaukee’s Deer District has risen to prominence with the strength of their Bucks basketball team. But the district goes beyond just being about basketball. Brimming with food/beverage offerings and unique technologies that enhance the experience of watching sports, it’s become an entirely new neighborhood grown out of a love for entertainment.  

Across the board, these entertainment districts benefit not only the team they’re reeling in fans to support, but the businesses that are based around it. This is particularly true from a financial perspective. “Cities can capture tax revenue generated by the stadium districts, which have been used to pay the construction cost of the district or venue but can also be used for other purposes,” Hospitality Net writes.


Downtowns are the heart of cities. As Gensler previously stated in their City Pulse data, people who feel that their central business district provides a great experience are 79% more likely to say that their city as a whole provides a great experience. That’s why now is the time to ensure the areas we’re planning for the future embrace their true potential. 

By establishing a place where visitors and residents can have tremendous experiences, a city’s vitality becomes exponential.

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