How does our neighborhood stack up?

The online magazine GOOD recently listed the 6 things that make up a perfect neighborhood.  Let’s see how our downtown stacks up:

1) A Signature Event
Downtown Columbia markets itself as a festival city and once had quite a few small, local events (think Twilight Festival). In the past few years though, at least two events have been making a splash on the national scene–the True/False Film Festival and the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival–and I see more regionally focused events on the horizon.  Is Columbia known exclusively as the host city to one of these festival? No, but our diversity does allow us to attract a wider range of visitors to Columbia. Give these events 5 more years and they’ll be firmly lodged in the national calendar.

2) Third Places
Downtown is virtually made up of third places–be they coffee shops, bars, pubs or what have you.  Although these places are by no means exclusionary, people do tend to have their regular hang outs.  I’m partial to Flat Branch Pub’s patio around 4 pm on a Friday but I’ll hang out at any of our coffee shops. Speaking of which, how do I become one of those people who sits in a coffee shop all day with a laptop and cell phone–and still make a living?

Photo courtesy of

3) Public Spaces
From public squares to public parks, downtown was planned in a way that has some public spaces breaking up the private ones (although certainly not on the level as a city such as, say, Savannah).  Interestingly, areas planned and labeled as “public spaces” are less successful, often requiring programmed events to draw people to them.  The best public space downtown?  I’d have to say the MKT trail which leads from the KATY Trail right into downtown.  No programming necessary.

4) A Human Scale
This isn’t just about walkability, it’s the ability to make connections and get things done.  As far as walkability, we’re struggling with the same issues as other downtowns–high density areas brimming with activity interspersed with stretches of blank spaces, such as surface parking lots.  We’ve done a good job of bringing certain areas of downtown back to life, the challenge now is to create attractive pedestrian connections between these areas.  As far as making connections, we’re far ahead of the game.  Not only are Columbians highly involved in local government, it’s relatively easy to network or plan joint projects while hanging around at a third place.  In fact, some of the best partnerships I’ve had came about because the right person was invited to Friday afternoon on the patio.

5) An Anchor Institution
The University of Missouri is a key anchor institution for our downtown but it’s not enough that they border our downtown and provide customers for our shops and restaurants. Working cooperatively is the key.  It wasn’t until just a few years ago that the university and the city began their first joint planning project for the portion of downtown bordering the college. Stephens College, on the other hand, is religious about getting involved–to the point where many downtown events place venues at the college and departments draw on experts from the downtown to teach classes.

6) Diversity 
Diversity is always harder to achieve in the middle of the country but downtown itself has a diversity not seen in other areas of the state–partly due to the three colleges bordering downtown but also because it feels open.   We have a pretty diverse group of small businesses owners–although female-owned businesses probably outstrip everyone else.

So there you have it.  Could we do better? Of course. But the good news is we’ve got a strong foundation upon which to build.