Downtown Devotion

When I first moved to Columbia, there was no question in my mind where I wanted to live — downtown. I found a small apartment on Fifth Street and immediately felt at home here in our central city. A few years have passed, and now I’m back living downtown again, this time in the North Village Arts District, and I’m remembering why I loved it so much.

I never have to look for something to do; it usually finds me. I stop and chat with people I know on my walk into work. The diversity of people, businesses and ideas here is unmatched. Best of all, people are very vocal about why they love the area, and they’ll devote endless amounts of time and energy to making it a better place.

I see that in my neighborhood, and I see that throughout the entire downtown. In fact, I think that’s why downtown has remained successful throughout the years — people all across Columbia care what happens here.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately from people who are interested in downtown and who have ideas on how to make it even better. Not surprisingly, there isn’t always agreement. With so many different voices here in The District, it’s nearly impossible to find 100 percent consensus.

But then, isn’t that what we want? We value diversity in opinions the same way we value diversity in our visitors. It might sound like a cacophony at times, but that mix of ideas is the only way to encourage a true dialogue.

We want people to participate in this dialogue — our members, our customers and everyone who cares about The District — because that’s what helps lead to the best decisions.

What I’ve seen happening lately in The District proves to me that the myriad voices and ideas eventually lead to a stronger, more vital downtown. Here are just a few examples:

  • The northern section of The District is being transformed from an industrial area to a burgeoning arts district due to the hard work and vision of property owners, business owners and artists.
  • We’re tripling the downtown population over the next year, with new residential construction projects as well as some great historic renovation of upper floor spaces.
  • We have a dedicated downtown community that has come together to address key issues like business recruitment, economic development and beautification in a way that benefits The District as a whole.
  • Thousands of people are coming to The District to enjoy one-of-a-kind events like the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ Festival, the True/False Film Festival, Summerfest, the Farmers and Artisans Market, and Artrageous Fridays.

Even better, we’re seeing these same people come downtown on a regular Friday night to do some window-shopping, grab a drink with friends, or meet their family for dinner. We’ve even extended retail shopping hours to make it easier for everyone.

Some of these events occurred only after significant debate and effort. It hasn’t been easy, and the work is not done. Certainly, The District can and must continue to improve in all ways possible. By debating and vetting each new idea, we increase the chances that downtown will be better tomorrow.

The people who love The District are looking for something special in our central city; I certainly was when I moved the first box into my new downtown apartment.

We might be a little messy at times, but I can guarantee you this: We’ll always be interesting — and you will always be welcome.