Consider: what is the pattern of your downtown’s street and building network? Was it organized in equal grids around a central public square or shaped with curves and twists along a meandering river? Or is it positioned linearly along a railroad line? Such original planning decisions were made by your downtown’s founding leaders and set the mold that made your town unique.
The next steps in its unique development may have been based on property owners’ and builders’ choices of materials: what was readily available to the craftspeople who designed and built the area’s first commercial and residential buildings? Were the preferred building materials some type of locally sourced wood, brick, or stone, or something even more exotic and unique to the area?
After decades of development, did your city decide to implement zoning and design guidelines to manage 20th century growth with the introduction of automobile traffic and suburban building? How did that planning and zoning impact the design and construction decisions that still characterize the look of your downtown today, now maybe 75 years later?
Once you have assessed your downtown’s design history, ask yourself, what is your community doing today to guide good design for the future of your downtown? Are you leading efforts to update or draft downtown master plans that allow local residents to provide essential input on preservation and new construction guidelines? I know that many Georgia cities are engaged in this visionary effort and should be applauded for their leadership. When working with a clear understanding of the influence of past design, Georgia’s downtowns are positioning themselves for a twenty-first century vision for success!