Downtown dissertation

Posted: July 25, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Had a nice little Saturday with the fam. No Bed, Bath & Beyond – we didn’t have time, but we did get to three solid Sioux Falls summer events. Two of them were downtown, the other just up the road.

We lunched at a bustling, corner coffee shop. I ordered a gourmet hot dog – the San Franciscan – replete with avocado, sprouts and cucumbers. It was flippin’ fantastic – flavorful, for sure, but also a delightful combination of hot and cold. Perfect on another 95-degree day. (For the record, not a complaint – I dig the heat.)

About halfway through the dog it hit me: I love downtown Sioux Falls. Love. It. I was genuinely happy in that moment, spending time with my family, enjoying good eats in a quaint spot in a safe place in a sweltering July. And there were other people there – a lot of them, at least by Dakota standards. That made me proud, weirdly and legitimately proud.

Folks, it seems, are starting to get it, that the downtown area, despite all those scary one-way streets and lack of chain stores, is thriving and unique and fun.

But proud? This needs to be examined, largely because I’m not alone. Think about it: What part of a city has more proponents than downtown?

Sioux Falls: Now with waterfalls!

So I’ve come up with three possible reasons for this. There are more, certainly, but these seem the most likely:

1. Downtown Sioux Falls is great. Not great for Sioux Falls, great for anywhere. That’s probably true in a couple of cases. Queen City Bakery, for example, remains without question the best of its kind I’ve encountered in any of my travels. And few downtowns are safer (at least anecdotally; don’t make me look that up). Nonetheless, I doubt the average New Yorker (ahem, Fury) would be blown away by the area.

2. It’s relatively great. That is, I’m from a small town – Jamestown, N.D., population roughly 15,000. (And, yes, Dakotans, that is a small town despite being in the top 10 in its state. Don’t get me started on this.) Although home to the world’s largest (cement) buffalo, we didn’t have access to children’s museums and concert halls and craft beers. That required a 90-mile drive east to Fargo or west Bismarck. In other words, I may be easily entertained. Maybe that’s akin to being a simpleton. I recognize that. I just might be the kid who spends hours playing with a single Christmas present and/or its packaging. But, to be fair, that kid is easier to deal with than the “I’m bored” brat.

3. Downtown defines a community. Social purists, if there is such a thing, view downtown as the heart of any city. We’ve been conditioned to believe that, whether scientifically true or not. Sioux Falls has a string of suburban-style malls and they’re surrounded by lines of franchise restaurants. Both groups do well, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they could be set anywhere – there’s nothing distinctive about them. Meanwhile, downtown is Sioux Falls – city hall, the old courthouse museum, the Big Sioux River. Those things are unique to this community and they have character.
If you are invested in your community, whether as a parent or a businessman or a social activist, a presentable downtown is on the short list of things that matter. It is a measuring stick of how well you are or aren’t doing collectively.

In that regard, I guess I feel a sense of ownership with downtown. Let’s make it great, let’s show people that Sioux Falls is progressive and smart and creative and special. Downtown is our canvas.

That said, Sioux Falls recently voted to build a new events center away from downtown. And I’m OK with that, too. Focusing every effort in one area isn’t a great way to build a balanced city. Downtown has become a destination just the same, a place to go and hang out and walk around and just be.


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