I have now had the pleasure of recently visiting two American cities with hugely successful pedestrian malls in their downtown core – St. Augustine, Florida and Boulder, Colorado. During the 1960s and 70s, pedestrian malls were seen as a possible solution to suburban shopping malls. Cities around the country converted their primary downtown shopping street to pedestrian malls in the hopes of stemming the loss of retailers. While some cities have removed their pedestrian malls, a number of others, including the two referenced in this post have been very successful.
There are interesting similarities between St. Augustine’s St. George Street and Boulder’s Pearl Street that are important to consider. Here is my list of why they are both successful. Suggested additions are welcome.
- Both cities have significant nighttime populations in or near their core, but from varied sources. In St. Augustine it is primarily tourists/vacationers staying at area hotels, inns, rentals, and other accommodations, as well as students and staff from Flagler College. In Boulder’s case, students and staff from the University of Colorado make up a very large proportion of the core population.
- Both cities are very walkable and bikeable.
- Both cities have a strong and long history of historic preservation and cultural enrichment. St. Augustine may have more historic markers per capita than any place I’ve been except for Gettysburg. While Boulder is considerably younger than St. Augustine, it too has found exemplary ways to preserve important buildings and sites of historical and cultural importance.
- Both cities have a cohesive downtown that have not been ripped apart by highway construction, by overtly-wide commercial arteries, by poor land use decision-making, or by urban renewal projects.
- In both cases, their downtown areas have transformed from the principal shopping district to more of an entertainment, dining, and cultural district. Smaller-scale retailers and restaurants thrive where there used to be department stores or five and dime merchandisers like Woolworth or McCrory. Cultural resources include museums, art galleries, music venues, street entertainers, and similar uses/activities.
- Both cities have readily available transit services, though their hours of operation may vary.
- In both instances most cross streets through the mall allow vehicular traffic. Crossing signals help facilitate safe flow in Boulder. In St. Augustine, the narrowness of the streets helps limit speeds, but drivers and pedestrians still must be watchful at these intersections, as there is limited visibility in Old City due to the age of the structures, which often abut the alleys/streets. A number of the streets are also brick, which helps reduce speeds.
- In both instances, buildings fronting St. George and Pearl Streets have been constructed and maintained at a human-scale.
- Landscaping, gardens, and outdoor art all play important roles in making these two pedestrian malls more people friendly, entertaining, and welcoming.
- Public facilities like restrooms, bike parking, and wayfinding signage/maps are abundant and accessible.
- Both public and private investments along these streets and adjoining areas are well-maintained.
- A strong sense of community/civic pride is readily apparent in both downtown cores.