The following article by Strong Towns member Arian Horbovetz, is republished from his blog, The Urban Phoenix.


Midtown Eats in action (Source: Arian David Photography)

Midtown Eats in action (Source: Arian David Photography)

As our downtowns attempt to hastily recover from decades of emptiness and inactivity with growing economic investment, changing long-held negative perceptions will always take more time.  Rochester, New York took one more step toward thinning the callus of downtown’s long-tarnished image last week when it launched its Midtown Eats pop-up, featuring food and adult beverages from some of the city’s most notable eateries.

The event, which will take place once a month, is primarily driven by downtown developers and businesses that are financially invested in Center City’s success.  The location is no mystery either… Midtown Eats takes place just outside of Rochester’s new Tower280, one of the most iconic residential/commercial development projects highlighting Downtown Rochester’s revival.  A row of pop-up tents featuring delicious food from a bevy of local vendors, a DJ, beer and wine were enough to bring thousands to the event for lunch and dinner.

While billed as a “pop-up” event, Midtown Eats isn’t a spontaneous happening.  Hard work, strategic planning and heavy investments by those who have a stake in its success make it vital to the future of downtown.  The hope is to continue to reintroduce Downtown Rochester to a city and metro population, a relationship that has been strained and distant for decades.  At the same time, the event aims to show Rochester businesses that downtown is a safe and lucrative place to set up shop once again, and that there is a population that is ready and willing to support it.

Pop-ups like this one are a great way to close the gaps in what I like to think of as a “Urban Revival Triangle.”  In this model, a city’s revival effort is driven by three major components:  Residents and Visitors, Businesses and Perception.

Residents and visitors will not support a revival without a change in the perception of our long-tarnished downtown reputations.  A vital element to changing this perception is the presence of new and unique businesses that create a vibrant, entertaining and eventually, job-producing business arena.  But these businesses won’t make the leap to downtown until they know that residents and visitors support it. This construct creates a sort of “chicken and the egg” triple-threat, where balance and subtle moves to shorten the distances between these three elements in the model are vital.

Midtown eats highlights a wonderful example of how cities are creatively bridging the gap between new residents and visitors who want a vibrant downtown filled with employment opportunities and entertainment options, and a business culture that is often still understandably tentative in taking the risk.  By showing Greater Rochester residents that downtown is “back,” while proving to businesses that a population is ready and waiting to support it, Midtown Eats is an intelligent and important experiment that, so far, appears to show the city is headed in a solid direction.

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