Global Trends Affecting Downtowns


Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates (better known as PUMA) just released their 2014 Global Trends Report and principle Brad Segal’s recently presented their results to the International Downtown Association.

For a little perspective I pulled out all the Global Trends reports I had received from PUMA, starting in 2006. It came as no surprise that the good folks at PUMA and the University of Colorado, Denver have been right on target in their analysis. For the last 8 years they’ve alerted us to growing trends towards diversity, health care, technology and education, the rise of women, entrepreneurship, the millennial generation, and sustainability (particularly in regards to transit, traffic, and walkability).

Of course, some new trends did appear as the result of unforeseen changes in our nation as a whole. The Great Recession lead to an increasing concern about debt among both consumers and investors as well as a renewed focus on social inequality. The impasse in Washington has given rise to cities as the key place—and perhaps the only place—for innovation to occur. And on a lighter note, the move towards locally sourced, healthy foods was well received by those of us with farm-to-table restaurants, CSA programs, and farmers markets.

The question though is less about PUMA’s predictive power and more about what we as practitioners are doing with this information. Anyone who had been paying attention in 2006 should have been prepared for these types of societal changes and been thinking about how they impact downtowns.

How many of us were actually doing this on a systematic level? How many of us have a well-thought out plan in place to create a sustainable downtown? How are we adjusting our services and our marketing campaigns to address a more diverse population? How are we balancing the needs of both boomers and millennials and their widely different views on what a community should be? Or are we spending all our time on the little things that crop up on a day-to-day basis?

Downtowns vary greatly and many organizations start at different places. But perhaps many of us have mastered clean and safe by now and need to start thinking more about these global issues.

Kudos to PUMA for stepping back from the day-to-day to think about the big picture—and kudos to those downtowns who are doing the same. As for me, I’m getting ready to survey our members about priorities for the next five years. Maybe I’ll set aside my email for a few days and see what big things we can accomplish.