HOME

TheInfoList




''Downtown'' is a term primarily used in
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
by
English speakers English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading language of international discourse in the 21st centu ...

English speakers
to refer to a city's sometimes commercial, cultural and often the historical, political and geographic heart. It is often synonymous with its
central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financial district". Geographically, it often coincides with ...
(CBD). Downtowns typically contain a small percentage of a city’s employment. In some metropolitan areas it is marked by a cluster of tall buildings, cultural institutions and the convergence of rail transit and bus lines. In
British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety that has undergone substantial codification of grammar and usage and is employed by a populatio ...
, the term "
city centre A city centre is the commercial, cultural and often the historical, political, and geographic heart of a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kup ...

city centre
" is most often used instead.


History


Origins

The
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal historical dictionary A historical dictionary or dictionary on historical principles is a dictionary which deals not only with the latterday meanings of words but also the historica ...
's first citation for "down town" or "downtown" dates to 1770, in reference to the center of
Boston Boston (, ), officially the City of Boston, is the capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Massachusetts, most populous city of the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States and 21st List of Unit ...

Boston
. Some have posited that the term "downtown" was coined in
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
, where it was in use by the 1830s to refer to the original town at the southern tip of the island of
Manhattan Manhattan (), known regionally as ''The City'', is the most densely populated and geographically smallest of the five boroughs 5 is a number, numeral, and glyph. 5, five or number 5 may also refer to: * AD 5, the fifth year of the AD era ...

Manhattan
.Fogelson, p. 10. As the town of New York grew into a city, the only direction it could grow on the island was toward the north, proceeding upriver from the original settlement, the "up" and "down" terminology coming from the customary map design in which up was
north North is one of the four compass points The points of the compass are the vectors by which planet A planet is an astronomical body orbiting a star or Stellar evolution#Stellar remnants, stellar remnant that is massive enough to be Hydro ...

north
and down was
south South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east and west. Etymology The word ''south'' comes from Old English ''sūþ'', from earlier Proto-Germanic language, Proto-Germa ...

south
. Thus, anything north of the original town became known as "
uptown Uptown may refer to: Neighborhoods or regions in several cities United States * Uptown, entertainment district east of Downtown and Midtown Albuquerque, New Mexico * Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina * Uptown, area surrounding the University of Cin ...
" (
Upper Manhattan Upper Manhattan, called "Uptown", is the most northern region of the New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from , or NYC for short, is the in the United States. With a 2020 population of 8,804,190 distribut ...
), and was generally a residential area, while the original town – which was also New York's only major center of business at the time – became known as "downtown" (
Lower Manhattan Lower Manhattan, also known as Downtown Manhattan or Downtown New York, is the southernmost part of , the central for business, culture, and in . Lower Manhattan is defined most commonly as the area delineated on the north by , on the west by t ...

Lower Manhattan
). During the late 19th century, the term was gradually adopted by cities across the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
and
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, Pacific and northward into the Arctic Oce ...

Canada
to refer to the historical core of the city, which was most often the same as the of the city. "Uptown" also spread, but to a much lesser extent. In both cases, though, the directionality of both words was lost, so that a Bostonian might refer to going "downtown", even though it was north of where they were.Fogelson, p. 11.
Downtown lay to the south in Detroit, but to the north in Cleveland, to the east in St. Louis, and to the west in Pittsburgh. In Boston, a resident pointed out in 1880, downtown was in the center of the city. Uptown was north of downtown in Cincinnati, but south of downtown in New Orleans and San Francisco.
Notably, "downtown" was not included in dictionaries as late as the 1880s.Fogelson, p. 12. But by the early 1900s, "downtown" was clearly established as the proper term in
American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, American English is the m ...
for a city's central business district, although the word was virtually unknown in Britain and Western Europe, where expressions such as "city centre" (British English), ''"el centro"'' (Spanish), ''"das Zentrum"'' (German), etc are used. Even as late as the early part of the 20th century, English travel writers felt it necessary to explain to their readers what "downtown" meant. Although American downtowns lacked legally-defined boundaries, and were often parts of several of the wards that most cities used as their basic functional district, locating the downtown area was not difficult, as it was the place where all the
street railway A tram (also known as a streetcar or trolley in North America) is a train that runs on tramway track on public urban streets; some include segments of segregated Right-of-way (transportation), right-of-way. The lines or networks operated b ...
s and elevated railways converged, and – at least in most places – where the railroad terminals were. It was the location of the great department stores and hotels, as well as that of theaters, clubs, cabarets, and dance halls, and where skyscrapers were built once that technology was perfected. It was also frequently, at first, the only part of a city that was electrified. It was also the place where street congestion was the worst, a problem for which a solution was never really found. But most of all, downtown was the place where the city did its business. Inside its small precincts, sometimes as small as several hundred acres, the majority of the trading, selling, and purchasing – retail and wholesale – in the entire area would take place. There were hubs of business in other places around the city and its environs, but the downtown area was the chief one, truly the central business district. And as more and more business was done downtown, those who had their homes there were gradually pushed out, selling their property and moving to quieter residential areas uptown.


Skyscrapers

The
skyscraper A skyscraper is a tall continuously habitable building having multiple floors. Modern sources currently define skyscrapers as being at least 100 metres or 150 metres in height, though there is no universally accepted definition. Skyscrapers ar ...

skyscraper
would become the hallmark of the downtown area. Prior to the invention of the
elevator U-Bahn Rapid transit in Germany consists of four U-Bahn systems and fourteen S-Bahn systems. The U-Bahn or Untergrundbahn (''underground railway'') are conventional rapid transit systems that run mostly underground, while the S-Bahn or ...

elevator
– and later the high-speed elevator – buildings were limited in height to about six stories, which was a ''de facto'' limit set by the amount of stairs it was assumed that people would climb, but with the elevator, that limit was shattered, and buildings began to be constructed up to about sixteen stories. What limited them then was the thickness of the masonry needed at the base to hold the weight of the building above it. As the buildings got taller, the thickness of the masonry and the space needed for elevators did not allow for sufficient rentable space to make the building profitable. What shattered that restriction was the invention of first the iron- and then the
steel frame Steel frame is a building technique with a "skeleton A skeleton is a structural frame that supports an animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom ...
building, in which the building's load was carried by an internal metal frame skeleton, which the masonry – and later glass – simply hung off of without carrying any weight. Although first used in Chicago, the steel-framed skyscraper caught on most quickly in New York City in the 1880s, and from there spread to most other American cities in the 1890s and 1900s. The apparent lack of a height limitation of this type of building set off a fervent debate over whether their height should be restricted by law, with proponents and opponents of height limits bringing out numerous arguments in favor of their position. The question of height limits also had a profound implication for the nature of downtown itself: would it continue to be a concentrated core, or as it grew, would height limits force it to spread out into a larger area.Fogelson, pp. 114–38 In the short run, the proponents of height limits were successful in their efforts. By the 1910s, most of the largest and medium-sized cities had height limits in effect, with New York – despite several concerted efforts to enact them – Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis being notable holdouts.


Zoning

Ultimately, though, it would not be height limits ''per se'' that restricted skyscrapers, but comprehensive
zoning law Zoning is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones. Zones may be defined for a sin ...
s which would set up separate requirements for different parts of a city, and would regulate not only height, but also a building's volume, the percentage of the lot used, and the amount of light the building blocked, and would also encourage setbacks to reduce a building's bulk by allowing additional height per foot of setback – the exact amount depending on what zone the building was in. New York City was the first to do this, with the
1916 Zoning Resolution 300px, Midtown Manhattan in 1932, showing the results of the Zoning Resolution: skyscrapers with Setback (architecture), setbacks The 1916 Zoning Resolution in New York City was the first citywide zoning code in the United States. The zoning res ...
, which was prompted in good part by the construction of the in 1915, a 40-story building with straight sides and no setbacks, which raised fears of the downtown area becoming a maze of dark streets that never saw the sun. What was worse, at least to real estate interests, the building dumped 1.2 million square feet (111,000 m2) of office space on what was a sluggish real estate market. To many in the real estate industry, the zoning law was an example of a "reasonable restriction." Once New York had passed its law, other cities followed, although proposed zoning measures did meet stiff resistance in some places, often because of the inclusion of overly restrictive height limits, and sometimes because the entire concept of zoning was seen as undemocratic and bordering on
socialism Socialism is a political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations between individuals, ...
. Eventually, a model law, the
Standard State Zoning Enabling Act"A Standard State Zoning Enabling Act" (SZEA) was a model law for U.S. states to enable zoning Zoning is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government A government is the system or group of people gov ...
of 1922 was drawn up for the guidance of cities wishing to enact zoning regulations, which are now part of virtually every American city.


Central business district

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the downtown area was ''the'' business district of the American city, but beginning around the 1920s and 1930s, as cities continued to grow in size and population, rival business districts began to appear outside of downtown in outlying districts. This was the time when the term "
central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financial district". Geographically, it often coincides with ...
" began to appear as more-or-less synonymous with the downtown area. The phrase acknowledged the existence of other business districts in the city, but allocated to downtown the primacy of being "central", not only geographically, in many cities, but also in importance. And in many cases, the downtown area or central business district, itself began to grow, such as in Manhattan where the business district lower Manhattan and the newer one in midtown began to grow towards each other,The movement of the two districts towards each other was stopped at first by the difficulty of building very tall buildings in the area between them, because the bedrock of
Manhattan schist Manhattan (), known regionally as the City and the urban core of the New York metropolitan area, is the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City, boroughs of New York City, and coextensive with the County of New York, one of ...
was so deep there, and later by zoning regulations. In effect then, contemporary Manhattan has ''two'' "central business districts", the one in Lower Manhattan, usually referred to as the
Financial District This is a list of financial districts in cities around the world. Background A financial district is usually a central area in a city where financial services firms such as banks, Insurance company, insurance companies and other related financ ...
, and the one in midtown, usually called
Midtown Manhattan Midtown Manhattan is the central portion of the New York City borough New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New York, is the List of United States cities by population, most populous city in the United States. With an ...

Midtown Manhattan
. "Downtown", therefore, is now primarily a direction, but can also be said to encompass most of Manhattan below
Central Park Central Park is an urban park in New York City located between the Upper West Side, Upper West and Upper East Sides of Manhattan. It is the List of New York City parks, fifth-largest park in the city by area, covering . It is the most visited ...

Central Park
, even though this includes residential neighborhoods such as the
Lower East Side The Lower East Side, sometimes abbreviated as LES and sometimes referred to as Loisaida, is a neighborhood A neighbourhood (British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a Wes ...

Lower East Side
,
Greenwich Village Greenwich Village ( , , ) is a neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan Lower Manhattan, also known as Downtown Manhattan or Downtown New York, is the southernmost part of Manhattan Manhattan (), known regionally as the City and ...

Greenwich Village
,
Chelsea Chelsea or Chelsey may refer to: Places Australia * Chelsea, Victoria Canada * Chelsea, Nova Scotia * Chelsea, Quebec United Kingdom * Chelsea, London, an affluent area of South West London, bounded to the south by the River Thames ** Chelsea ...
, the
Flatiron District The Flatiron District is a neighborhood in the New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from , or NYC for short, is the in the United States. With a 2020 population of 8,804,190 distributed over , New York Ci ...

Flatiron District
– located around one of the city's very first "skyscrapers", the 22-story
Flatiron Building#REDIRECT Flatiron Building The Flatiron Building, originally the Fuller Building, is a triangular 22-story, steel-framed landmarked building located at 175 Fifth Avenue Fifth Avenue is a major thoroughfare in the borough (New York City), b ...

Flatiron Building
, and
Gramercy Park Gramercy ParkSometimes misspelled as Grammercy () is the name of both a small, fenced-in private park and the surrounding neighborhood that is referred to also as Gramercy, in the New York City borough A borough is an administrative division ...
.
or in Chicago, where downtown expanded from
the Loop The Loop may refer to: Entertainment and media Books *''The Loop'', a 1992 novel by Joe Coomer (author), Joe Coomer *''The Loop'', a 1998 novel by Nicholas Evans Film and television *The Loop (Australian TV series), ''The Loop'' (Australian TV se ...
across the
Chicago River The Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals with a combined length of that runs through the city of Chicago, including its center (the Chicago Loop). Though not especially long, the river is notable because it is one of the reasons for C ...

Chicago River
to . In fact, the instability of downtown was a cause for concern for business and real estate interests, as the business district refused to stay where it had been, and shifted its location in response to numerous factors, although it generally stayed fairly compact – in the early 1930s even the largest took up less than 2% of the city's space, and most were significantly smaller – and remained the primary business district of the city. Real estate interests were particularly concerned about the tendency of downtown to move because the downtown area had by far the highest land values in each city. One commentator said that if Chicago's land values were shown as height on a relief map, the Loop would be equivalent to the peaks of the Himalayas compared to the rest of the city. In 1926, Chicago's central business district, which took up less than 1% of the city, had 20% of the city's land value. The same relationship was true in St. Louis in the mid-20s (20%) and Los Angeles in the early 1930s (17%). So when a downtown area started to shift its location, some property owners were bound to lose a great deal of money, while others would stand to gain.


Decentralization

One way in which downtown changed from the late 19th century to the early part of the 20th century was that industrial concerns began to leave downtown and move to the periphery of the city, which meant that downtown's businesses were chiefly part of the burgeoning
service sector The tertiary sector of the economy, generally known as the service sector, is the third of the three economic sector Image:Economic sectors and income.JPG, 250px, This figure illustrates the percentages of a country's economy made up by differen ...
. Brand new firms followed the older ones, and never came to downtown, settling at the edges of the city or the urban area. Industrial districts developed in these areas, which were sometimes specifically zoned for manufacturing. There, land was considerably cheaper than downtown, property taxes were lower, transportation of supplies and finished products was much easier without the constant congestion emblematic of downtown, and with the improvement of the
telephone A telephone is a telecommunication Telecommunication is the transmission of information by various types of technologies over wire A wire is a single usually cylindrical A cylinder (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anyt ...

telephone
system, the industrial firms could still keep in touch with the companies they did business with elsewhere. As a result of this migration, manufacturing was no longer a significant part of the downtown mix of businesses. Another sector which began to move away from downtown even before the turn of the 20th century were the great cultural institutions: museums, symphony halls, main libraries and so on. Not only was the high cost of land downtown a factor, but these institutions wanted larger plots of land than were available there, so that their buildings could themselves be easily perceived as works of art. Organizations such as the
Metropolitan Museum of Art The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among 17 curatorial departments. The main building ...

Metropolitan Museum of Art
, the
New-York Historical Society The New-York Historical Society is an History of the United States, American history museum and library in New York City, at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The society was founded in 1804 a ...
, the American Museum of Natural History and the
Museum of the City of New York The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) is a history History (from Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past. Events occurring before the invention of writing systems are consi ...
, all in Manhattan, moved out of downtown, as did the
Museum of Fine ArtsMuseum of Fine Arts (French: ''Musée des Beaux-Arts''; German: ''Museum der bildenden Künste'') may refer to: Argentina * Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires), Buenos Aires Austria * Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Belgium * Roy ...
, the
Boston Public Library The Boston Public Library is a municipal public library system in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, founded in 1848. The Boston Public Library is also the Library for the Commonwealth (formerly ''library of last recourse'') of the Commonwealth ...

Boston Public Library
, the
Boston Symphony Orchestra The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is an American orchestra An orchestra (; ) is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music Classical music generally refers to the formal musical tradition of the Western world ...
, and the
Massachusetts Historical Society The Massachusetts Historical Society is a major historical archive specializing in early United States, American, Massachusetts, and New England history. It is located at 1154 Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts and is the oldest historical so ...
in Boston, the
Cleveland Museum of Art Cleveland ( ), officially the City of Cleveland, is a city in the United States, U.S. U.S. state, state of Ohio, and the county seat of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Cuyahoga County. It is located along the southern shore of Lake Erie, across the U.S ...

Cleveland Museum of Art
, the
Baltimore Museum of Art Baltimore ( , locally: ) is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as the 30th most populous city in the United States, with an estimated population of 593,490 in 2019. Baltimore was designated an independent city by ...
, the
Detroit Public Library The Detroit Public Library is the second largest library system in the U.S. state of Michigan by volumes held (after the University of Michigan Library) and is the 21st largest library system (and the fourth-largest public library system) in the Un ...

Detroit Public Library
and the
Detroit Institute of Art The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), located in Midtown Detroit, Michigan, has one of the list of largest art museums, largest and most significant art collections in the United States. With over 100 galleries, it covers with a major renovation an ...
, and most of the cultural institutions in
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the United States and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. A population of 302,971 residents lives within the city limit ...

Pittsburgh
. Public reaction to these moves was mixed, with some bemoaning the loss of a counterbalance to the overall materialism of downtown, while others, particularly those involved in real estate, looked positively on the availability of the land which the cultural institutions left behind. The loss of the major cultural institutions left downtown as a place primarily dedicated to business, but the loss of another sector, retail shopping, defined the ''type'' of business that was done there. The great retail outlets like the department stores had always had the tendency to move closer to the residential districts, to make it easier for their customers to get to them, but after 1920 they started to congregate in secondary business districts on the periphery of the city. The growth of chain stores such as
J. C. Penney Penney OpCo, LLC (formerly known as J. C. Penney Company, Inc; doing business as JCPenney and abbreviated JCP) is a midscale American department store A department store is a retail Retail is the sale of goods In economics Eco ...
, F. W. Woolworth, Kresge and W. T. Grant, contributed to the increased importance of the outlying shopping districts, which began outselling those retail stores which had remained in the central business district, and provoked those stores to open branches in the secondary districts in attempt to go to where there customers were instead of having them come downtown to them. Entertainment venues also contributed to the decentralization of commerce which affected the importance and influence of downtown and the central business district.
Theater Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performe ...

Theater
s,
vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, mixed with songs or b ...
houses,
dance hall , Ohio, built in 1882, then labeled "The largest Dance Floor on Lake Erie". File:Dance Hall at Toledo Beach, Monroe County, Michigan - DPLA - 4d405caf8ff288dd82c694e584e9c34e.jpg, The Dance Hall at Toledo Beach in Michigan, 1906 Dance hall in its ...
s and
night club A nightclub (music club, discothèque, disco club, or simply ''club'') is an entertainment venue during nighttime comprising a dance, dance floor, Laser lighting display, lightshow, and a stage for a disc jockey (DJ) where a DJ plays recorde ...
s had been primarily located in downtown, with
nickelodeon Nickelodeon (often shortened to Nick) is an American pay television Pay television, also known as subscription television, premium television or, when referring to an individual service, a premium channel, refers to subscription The subs ...
s spread throughout the city. When film became the dominant medium, and exhibitors started to build
movie theater . The picture the projector is displaying is the 1997 Universal Pictures Universal Pictures (legally Universal City Studios LLC, also known as Universal Studios, and formerly named Universal Film Manufacturing Company and Universal-Internati ...

movie theater
s to show them in, they at first built those venues downtown as well, but, as in retail shopping, chain exhibitors such as Loews began to construct them in locations convenient to the mass audience they were seeking; again, it was a matter of bringing their product to where the people were. By the late 1920s, movie houses outside of downtown far outnumbered those in the central district. Not all the movie theaters in the periphery were
palaces , the official residence of Emperor of Japan The Emperor of Japan is the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 " he head o ...
, but some were, and the net effect was that downtown was no longer the entertainment center of the city. With the loss of manufacturing, the major cultural institutions, much of the retail shopping in the city, and its loss of status as the entertainment center, the nature of downtown had changed considerably. It was still the location of banks, stocks and commodity exchanges, law and accounting firms, the headquarters of the major industrial concerns and public utilities, insurance companies, and advertising agencies, and in its confines continued to be built new and taller skyscrapers housing offices, hotels and even department stores, but it was still steadily losing ground as decentralization took its toll. Its daytime population was not keeping pace with the population growth of the city around it, and property values, while continuing to rise, were not rising as fast as those in the secondary business districts. Downtown was still the central business district, and was still the most important area for doing business and commerce, but it was no longer as dominant as it once was.


Cause and effect

The causes of decentralization, which decreased the importance of downtown in the life of American cities, have been ascribed to many factors, including each city's normal growth patterns; advances in technology like the telephone, which made it easier for business-to-business intercourse to take place over a distance, thus lessening the need for a centralized commercial core; the rise of the private automobile, which allowed shoppers to go to peripheral business districts more easily; a strong increase in streetcar fares; and the continuing problem of congestion in the narrow streets of the downtown area. As much as people disagreed about what caused decentralization, they were even less in agreement about how decentralization would affect the central business district, with opinions varying all the way from the belief that it would diminish downtown sufficiently that it would eventually consist of only offices and the headquarters of corporate giants, to the belief that decentralization would lead to the (perhaps deserved) death of downtown entirely as unnecessary, a victim of its untameable traffic congestion. In between were those who saw a diminishment of the area's influence, but not enough to prevent it from remaining the "Sun" that the outlying business districts revolved around. Others doubted whether decentralization had as strong an impact as it was credited with. Positions were taken that downtown was a natural part of the evolution of a city, or the unnatural result of a ''de facto'' conspiracy by merchants and property owners, so the question of what decentralization would do to downtown became bound up with the question about the area's legitimacy. Decentralization also increased the incidences of rivalry between downtown and burgeoning business districts. In Los Angeles, for instance, downtown and Wilshire Boulevard battled for dominance, and in Cincinnati the rivalry was between the old downtown centered around Fountain Square and the one on Canal Street. The diminishment of downtown by decentralization caused these battles to be between areas that were now more relatively equal.


The Great Depression

Like almost every other aspect of American life, the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
had a major effect on the country's downtown area. Downtown was just coming off a major building boom, in which significant amounts of new commercial and office space, hotels, and department stores had been built. By 1931 there were 89 buildings of 30 stories or more in Manhattan, and between 1925 and 1931, office space nearly doubled; in Chicago, it increased by almost 75%, in Philadelphia by almost two-thirds, and by more than 50% in New Orleans and Denver. In the 1920s, 500,000 additional hotel rooms were built in New York, and from 1927 to 1931 there were 84 large hotels built there, an increase of hotel space by two-thirds. When the boom was over, and the Depression had begun to have its effect, much of this new space became unneeded excess. Owners of smaller buildings who could not keep a sufficient number of tenants to pay their overhead, tore down their buildings, but whereas in the recent past they would have been replaced with taller buildings, now they became one- and two-story parking garages or ground-level parking lots. These were widely known as "taxpayers", as they generated enough revenue for the owner of the lot to pay the taxes on it. Rents fell, sometimes as much as 30%, and non-payment of rent increased. Even with the "taxpayers" taking away commercial space, vacancy rates rose precipitously. Owners went into default, and downtown real estate lost considerable value: 25–30% in the Chicago Loop – although values in other parts of the city, including the outlying business districts, fared even worse. Department stores were hit hard; most managed to keep their doors open, but few made money. Hotels which needed to have large staffs, and required high occupancy rates to make a profit were also deeply affected; in Manhattan the hotel occupancy rate fell from 1929's 70% to around 50% in 1933. Room rates were slashed, revenue dropped, and many hotels closed or defaulted. By 1934, 80% of hotels in Manhattan were owned by their creditors.Fogelson, pp. 218–21


Recovery

The slow recovery from the effects of the Great Depression began in the mid-1930s, decelerated at the end of the 1930s, and picked up speed with the start of
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
, so that by the early 1940s the country was for the most part out of the Depression. Excess commercial space began to be used, vacancy rates dropped, department store sales rose, hotel occupancy rates went up, and revenues increased.Fogelson, pp. 221–26 Despite this recovery, the daytime population of the country's downtowns did not rebound. For instance, in Chicago between 1929 and 1949, the population of the city grew 7%, and that of the entire metropolitan area by about 14%, but the daytime population of The Loop only rose 1/3 of 1%. With a few exceptions, such as New York City, this pattern was typical across American cities, and was tied to the slowing down of the rate of growth of the cities themselves. Cities in the US grew much more slowly than during any other period in the history of the country, and some even lost population. Metropolitan regions grew faster than the cities inside them, indicating the start of the decades of
urban sprawl Urban sprawl (also known as suburban sprawl or urban encroachment) is the unrestricted growth in many urban area An urban area, or built-up area, is a human settlement with a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. ...
, but they too grew at a slower pace than usual. Downtowns also had less daytime population because people now went to the outlying business districts, which were closer to their homes by car, for their shopping and entertainment, to do business, and to work. The increased use of automobiles over mass transit also damaged downtown, since the streetcar lines converged on downtown, while the roads went everywhere. All of these factors contributed to the lesser recovery of downtown relative to the city as a whole and the metropolitan area. Another sign that downtowns were no longer as central to city life as they once were include the decreased portion of retail trade that took place there as compared to the peripheral business areas, which profited by the growth of the chain stores, to the detriment of the big downtown department stores. Furthermore, the "taxpayers", which many people had expected to disappear once the economy improved, remained in place, and even increased in number. In the Loop in Chicago, by the early 1940s, 18% of the land was vacant or was used for parking; in Los Angeles at the same time, the figure was 25%. Demand for commercial space was so light that it did not make financial sense to construct expensive new buildings, and banks began to refuse to make loans for that purpose,
redlining Redlining is the systematic denial of various services or goods by governments or the private sector either directly or through the selective raising of prices. The word itself is rooted back to the early 1930's after the color correlating prope ...
whole neighborhoods in the central business bistrict.


Characteristics

The typical American downtown has certain unique characteristics. During the postwar economic boom in the 1950s, the residential population of most downtowns crashed. This has been attributed to reasons such as
slum clearanceSlum clearance, slum eviction or slum removal is an urban renewal upright=1.35, 1999 photograph looking northeast on housingproject,_one_of_many_urban_renewal_efforts.html" ;"title="Public_housing.html" ;"title="Cabrini–Green_Homes.html" ;"titl ...
, construction of the
Interstate Highway System The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System, is a network of controlled-access highway network. A controlled-access highway is a type of highway that has ...
, and
white flight White flight or white exodus is the sudden or gradual large-scale migration of from areas becoming more racially or ethnoculturally diverse. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, the terms became popular in the . They referred to the large-scale mi ...
from urban cores to rapidly expanding
suburb A suburb (or suburban area or suburbia) is a commercial Commercial may refer to: * a dose of advertising conveyed through media (such as - for example - radio or television) ** Radio advertisement ** Television advertisement * (adjective ...
s. Due to well-intended but ineptly executed urban revitalization projects, downtowns eventually came to be dominated by high-rise office buildings in which commuters from the suburbs filled white-collar jobs, while the remaining residential populations sank further into unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. By the 1990s, many office-oriented businesses began to abandon the tired old downtowns for the suburbs, resulting in what are now known as " edge cities". One textbook, in explaining why edge cities are so popular, stated: Since then, between 2000 and 2010, downtown areas grew rapidly in population. In U.S. metro areas with at least five million people, the population within two miles of the city hall grew twice as fast as the overall population in the metro area.


Relative geography

The terms ''downtown'' and ''uptown'' can refer to
cardinal direction The four cardinal directions, or cardinal points, are the directions , , , and , commonly denoted by their initials N, E, S, and W. East and west are (at s) to north and south, with east being in the direction of rotation from north and west ...
s, for example, in Manhattan, where ''downtown'' is also a relative geographical term. Anything south of where the speaker is currently standing, in most places, is said to be ''downtown''. Anything north of the speaker is ''uptown''. In the common New York City phrase "We're going to take the downtown", ''downtown'' refers to traveling in the geographic direction of south. A person standing on 121st Street and walking ten blocks south could also be said to have walked ten blocks downtown. The term ''uptown'' is used to refer to the cardinal direction north. Such concepts derive from Manhattan's elongated shape, running roughly north–south and nowhere more than wide. As such, transportation on the island travels in the uptown/downtown directions. The other
boroughs A borough is an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for ...
are wider, and "downtown" there refers to Lower Manhattan,
Downtown Brooklyn Downtown Brooklyn is the third largest central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the cit ...
, or some more local business district. Mercantile efforts to promote the
South Bronx The South Bronx is an area of the New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New York, is the List of United States cities by population, most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2019 population of 8,336,8 ...
as "Downtown Bronx" have met with little success.Feuer, Alan (June 23, 2008
"Washing 'South' Out of Bronx Mouths; Hoping That 'Downtown Bronx' Will Sound More Uptown"
''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 132 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of a ...

The New York Times
''
In some North American cities, ''downtown'' is the formal name of the neighborhood in which the city's central business district is located. Most major North American cities are located on major bodies of water, like oceans, lakes, and rivers. As cities expanded, people built further away from the water and their historical cores, often uphill. Thus the central business district of a North American city, or the historical core of the city, is often located "down", in altitude, relative to the remainder of the city. Many cities use the Manhattan model and continue to use ''downtown'', ''midtown'', and ''uptown'' both as informal relative geographical terms and as formal names for distinct districts. However, the city of
Philadelphia Philadelphia (colloquially known simply as Philly) is the largest city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is ...

Philadelphia
uses the designation
Center CityCenter City or Centre City may refer to: Places * Center City, Minnesota, U.S. **Center City Historic District * Center City, Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S. * Center City, Erie, Pennsylvania U.S. * Center City, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. * Center ...
, not downtown, due to the business district's central location, as well as Philadelphia's age and circumstances; "Center City" corresponds to the City of Philadelphia prior to its amalgamation with
Philadelphia County Philadelphia County is the most populous county in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania ( ) ( pdc, Pennsilfaani), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic ...
in
1854 Events January–March * January 3 – Charles Dickens commences writing the novel ''Hard Times (novel), Hard Times''. * January 4 – The McDonald Islands are discovered by Captain William McDonald aboard the ''Samarang''. * Janua ...
, leaving it without a unique name, unlike the former boroughs surrounding it; the center of the city is also where
Philadelphia City Hall Philadelphia City Hall is the seat of the municipal government of the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, housing the chambers of the Philadelphia City Council and the offices of the List of mayors of Philadelphia, Mayor of Philadelphia. It is al ...

Philadelphia City Hall
is located within the city's original
plat In the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, st ...

plat
.
New Orleans New Orleans (,New Orleans
uses the term
Central Business District A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financial district". Geographically, it often coincides with ...
(or CBD) for their downtown due to the historical
French Quarter The French Quarter, also known as the , is the oldest neighborhood A neighbourhood (British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic ...

French Quarter
district taking up what would usually be considered the city's historical downtown district, and another area of the city south of the CBD being referred to as .


Major downtowns

United States
(50 most populous American cities) *
Downtown Albuquerque Downtown Albuquerque is the central business district of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is where a significant number of the city's highrise buildings are located, and is the center of government and business for the Albuqu ...

Downtown Albuquerque
* *
Downtown Atlanta Downtown Atlanta is the central business district of Atlanta Atlanta () is the capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Georgia (U.S. state), most populous city of the U.S. state of Georgia (U.S. state), Georgia. With an estimate ...

Downtown Atlanta
*
Downtown Austin Downtown Austin is the central business district of Austin, Texas. Downtown is located on the north bank of the Colorado River (Texas), Colorado River. The approximate borders of Downtown include Lamar Boulevard to the west, Martin Luther King J ...

Downtown Austin
*
Downtown Baltimore Downtown Baltimore is the central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financi ...
*
Downtown Boston Downtown Boston is the central business district of Boston Boston (, ), officially the City of Boston, is the and city of the of in the and 21st . The city proper covers with an estimated population of 692,600 in 2019, also making it t ...

Downtown Boston
*
Financial District, Boston The Financial District of is located in , near and . Like many areas within Boston, the Financial District has no official definition. It is roughly bounded by , State Street, and Devonshire Street. Parts of the Financial District are in var ...
*
Uptown Charlotte Uptown Charlotte is the central business district of Charlotte, North Carolina Charlotte () is the List of municipalities in North Carolina, most populous city in the U.S. state of North Carolina. Located in the Piedmont (United States), Piedmo ...
*
Chicago Loop The Loop, one of Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive maps of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type ...
*
Downtown Cleveland Downtown Cleveland is the central business district of Cleveland, Ohio. The economic and symbolic center of the city and the Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH Combined Statistical Area, it is Cleveland's oldest district, with its Public Square, Cleveland, ...

Downtown Cleveland
* Downtown Colorado Springs * Downtown Columbus *
Downtown Denver Downtown Denver is the main financial, commercial, and entertainment district in Denver, Colorado Denver (), officially the City and County of Denver, is the List of capitals in the United States#State capital, capital and List of U.S. st ...

Downtown Denver
*
Downtown Detroit Downtown Detroit is the central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financial ...

Downtown Detroit


*
Downtown Dallas Downtown Dallas is the central business district (CBD) of Dallas, Dallas, Texas, United States, located in the geographic center of the city. It is the second-largest business district in the state of Texas. The area termed "Downtown" has traditio ...

Downtown Dallas
*
Downtown El Paso Downtown El Paso is the central business district of El Paso, Texas. Historical downtown James Day, an El Paso historian, said that downtown's main business area was originally centered between Second Street and San Francisco Street. At a later ...

Downtown El Paso
*
Downtown Fort Worth Downtown Fort Worth is the central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financi ...

Downtown Fort Worth
* *
Downtown Houston Downtown is the largest business district in the city of Houston and the largest in the state of Texas, located near the geographic center of the metropolitan area at the confluence of Interstate 10 in Texas, Interstate 10, Interstate 45, and Inte ...

Downtown Houston
*
Downtown Indianapolis Downtown Indianapolis is the central business district of Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. Downtown is the location of many corporate or regional headquarters; city, county, state and federal government facilities; several medical centers; Indi ...

Downtown Indianapolis
*
Downtown Jacksonville Downtown Jacksonville is the historic core and central business district (CBD) of Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida United States, USA. It comprises the earliest area of the city to be developed and is located in its geographic center a ...
*
Downtown Kansas City Downtown Kansas City is the central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the city's "financi ...
*
Downtown Las Vegas Downtown Las Vegas (commonly abbreviated as DTLV) is the and historic center of , . It is the original townsite and was the gambling district of Las Vegas prior to , and the area still incorporates . As the urban core of the , it features a varie ...
*
Downtown Long Beach Downtown Long Beach is the heart of Long Beach, California California is a U.S. state, state in the Western United States. With over 39.3million residents across a total area of approximately , it is the List of states and territories of th ...
* Downtown Los Angeles * Downtown Louisville, Kentucky, Downtown Louisville * Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, Downtown Memphis * Mesa, Arizona, Downtown Mesa

* Downtown Miami * Downtown Milwaukee * Central, Minneapolis, Downtown Minneapolis * Downtown Nashville *
Midtown Manhattan Midtown Manhattan is the central portion of the New York City borough New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New York, is the List of United States cities by population, most populous city in the United States. With an ...

Midtown Manhattan
,
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
*
Financial District This is a list of financial districts in cities around the world. Background A financial district is usually a central area in a city where financial services firms such as banks, Insurance company, insurance companies and other related financ ...
,
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
*
Downtown Brooklyn Downtown Brooklyn is the third largest central business district A central business district (CBD) is the commercial and business center of a city. It contains commercial space and offices. In larger cities, it is often synonymous with the cit ...
,
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
* Downtown Oakland * Downtown Oklahoma City * Downtown Omaha * Center City, Philadelphia * Downtown Phoenix * Downtown Portland * Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, Downtown Raleigh

* Downtown Sacramento * Downtown Saint Paul * Downtown San Antonio * Downtown San Diego * Financial District, San Francisco, Downtown San Francisco * Downtown San Jose * Downtown Seattle * Tucson, Arizona#Downtown and Central Tucson, Downtown Tucson * Downtown Tampa * Tucson, Arizona, Downtown Tucson * Downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, Downtown Tulsa * Virginia Beach, Virginia, Downtown Virginia Beach * Downtown, Washington, D.C. * Downtown Wichita
Canada
* Downtown Calgary * Downtown Edmonton * Downtown Halifax * Downtown Montreal * Downtown Ottawa * Downtown St. John's * Downtown Toronto * Downtown Vancouver * Downtown Victoria * Downtown Winnipeg File:Financial District, Toronto.jpg, Downtown Toronto, Ontario File:Montreal skyline September 2013 crop.jpg, Downtown Montreal, Quebec File:Downtown Hdr (238713623).jpeg, Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia File:Downtown Calgary 2020-2.jpg, Downtown Calgary, Alberta


See also

* Concentric zone model * High Street * Inner city * Main Street * Urbanization


References

Informational notes Citations Bibliography * Fogelson, Robert M. (2003)
''Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880–1950''
New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.


External links

*
International Downtown Association
{{Authority control City Neighbourhoods Urban studies and planning terminology Articles containing video clips