Contrary to many local authorities, urban designers and developers there is no quick fix in creating a cultural district or in revamping a potential cultural district in a city, but succesful ones are the result of many often small and incremental pieces by many players over often log periods of time, as can be attested in the more successful areas of Cape Town’s Long Street or more commercially V&A Waterfront development, Cape Quarter and often such active larger scale interventions are less succesful than theri original small scale precursors or might fail outright.
Cultural and entertainment districts are not a quick fix, but the slow weaving together of smart, sometimes big, often small, urban solutions.
“American cities are always looking for quick fixes to revive their moribund downtowns,” Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a May 15 New York Times op-ed article, a review of the High Line, New York City’s popular elevated park. “Sadly, the dismal record of failed urban design strategies is long: downtown shopping malls, pedestrianized streets, underground passages, skyways, monorails, festival marketplaces, downtown stadiums—and that most elusive fix of all: iconic cultural buildings. It appears likely that we will soon be adding elevated parks to the list.”
“Districts are where it is happening, especially as tourism becomes as important as goods and services to urban economies,” says Michael S. Rubin, head of Baltimore-based MRA International and one of the leading thinkers in the urban entertainment field. “Offering visitors choices about where to go and what to see allows people to create their own personal itineraries. This sense of possibility helps to bridge the gap between generations and cultures, even when the choices are embedded in well-planned and programmed entertainment districts.”
“The best districts build on a classic formula—small blocks, pedestrian scale, active uses at the corners, business that spills out on the sidewalks, and outdoor gathering spaces,” says Nate Cherry, vice president/director of planning and urban design in the Los Angeles office of RTKL. “At L.A. Live, we didn’t have the benefit of an existing urban context. Instead we had the Staples Center arena and the convention center, so it was important that the design provide the scale, the pathways, and plazas to encourage people coming for a game or a concert to stay and explore the restaurants and shops or to make plans to come back.”