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Working Papers

The Return of the Town Center

Working paper #440
Charles C. Bohl

In recent years, new town centers, main streets, and urban villages have attracted intense interest from the real estate development community, retail industry and planners. Urban “place making”—via the mixing of uses within a pedestrian environment modeled after traditional town centers—is not simply a dream of urban designers and city planners but a marketable development concept that is increasingly being embraced by both the pub-lic and the private sectors. Whether modest village centers on the suburban fringe or bustling urban districts created on infill sites, main-street and town-center projects are making waves as promising new forms of real estate development. Today there are more than a hundred new town-center projects of various types planned or under construction, and at least one-third of the plans for new shopping malls incorporate an open-air urban setting, such as a main street, as a featured component. This article looks at the recent evo-lution of town-center development, discusses the trends contributing to the proliferation of town centers in recent years, and identifies some of their essential characteristics and ingredients for success. The article concludes that the most successful town centers will be those that capture the essence of great urban places while following the practical rules of real estate development and retailing.

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