Richard Florida, author of The Rise of The Creative Class and a leading thinker on the modern city, spies in the evolution of Miami’s Design District a “tipping point back toward urban downtowns”, not just here but nationwide: “After years of neglect, decline, and abandonment, downtowns across the United States are poised to come back — and not just as redoubts for hipsters, artisanal food, indie music, and trendy boutiques, but as major shopping destinations.”
In a new article in The Atlantic Cities, Florida chronicles how downtown shopping districts gave way to suburban malls in the ’70s after shoppers had been moving out of the city for decades. Now, he says, the shopping centers — and the shoppers — are coming back to the city, and the Design District, which recently lured Bernard Arnault’s LVMH group (Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Christian Dior) from the Shops at Bal Harbour, is a bellwether of the trend.
Some might say that Miami’s success in luring high end shopping back into the inner city portends little if anything for harder-hit small and medium-sized cities that don’t have Miami’s global influx of wealthy part-time residents and tourists. But they haven’t considered just how bold LMVH’s experiment is. They are moving their shops out of one of the most affluent, if not the most affluent malls in the country, into an urban center which is essentially untested.
If cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Newark don’t have Miami’s glitz and glamour to bank on, they too are surrounded by wealthy suburbs, which are similarly well-supplied with high-end malls. Suburban Detroit has its Somerset Collection; Newark has the Mall at Short Hills in nearby Millburn. And, like Miami, those city’s downtowns have the infrastructure and the character to support the kind of development that DACRA brought to the Design District.
Now, some people don’t see the Design District’s development into a decentralized version of the Shops at Bal Harbour as an unadulterated boon, despite the fact that, as Florida points out in the story, it was recently a crime-ridden, “somnolent district that almost no one but professional designers ever went to.” I’m actually quoted in the story expressing my wish that the Design District had a book store and a few more good/affordable restaurants to accompany the mostly upscale establishments there. “… in a zoomed-out picture, the Design District would seem to work as hipstery Wynwood’s sophisticated cousin. But I still lament that a place whose scale and architecture I find so alluring offers me little to do other than occasionally splurge on a meal at Michael’s or Sra. Martinez.”
That said, I share Florida’s enthusiasm about the general trend of people moving from the suburbs back into the city, a shift that could have huge, positive implications for a sprawled-out metro like Miami. “From where I sit,” Florida says, “what’s happening in Miami is something of a bellwether, an unmistakable sign that the economic and commercial center of gravity is shifting away from the suburbs and back to the urban core. We are at a similar inflection point today to the one we experienced in the 1970s, when retail abruptly decamped to the suburbs. Only this time, the impetus is the other way around.”
To read the full article, visit theatlanticcities.com.