A Tale of Two Cities, Part 2

A few days ago I spoke with a downtown consultant and brought up my recent trip to Georgetown in Washington, DC.  His response?  “You can’t build cities that way anymore.”  Apparently, most city building codes actually prevent the creation of high-density, multi-use areas like Georgetown.

Photo courtesy of virtualtourist.com

Georgetown thrives due to many factors –the university, the large number of college students, the equally large number of professionals and some strong residential areas ringing their downtown.  And yes, there is quite a bit of money in the area as well.   All of these help create a strong base for a multitude of high end restaurants, bars and retailers.  But its success is also the result of 18th Century building practices.  Buildings are close together, storefronts are a traditional width 21 or 42 feet, and a building has multiple uses–be it office, residential or commercial.  The result is a crowded, bustling streetscape with enough going on to please anyone.

Photo courtesy of offbeattravel.com

The one disappointment?  A misguided effort to create a downtown mall. Although it’s located on M Street, a busy thoroughfare with a great mix of local and national retailers, this energy doesn’t translate inside.  The ceilings feel low and the site lines are terrible so not only do customers feel overly confined, they can’t see what stores are up ahead. This is especially problematic given that the site lines down M Street keep the pedestrians moving from one block to the next.  One simply walks inside and this forward-moving energy stops.

All and all though, Georgetown is a great area and one that I’d like to see recreated elsewhere in the country.  Maybe a field trip is just the thing to convince city planners and other officials to revisit their restrictive building codes.