By Kate Herzog, Downtown Business Association of Bismarck
Americans love a comeback. And the history of our nation’s Downtowns is a “Comeback Story”. A new generation has made urban cores a part of their identity.
We open on the First Act: For decades, centuries even, cities were built for public gatherings, organized for local commerce; they were walkable, interactive and energetic, and above all built to reflect what the community valued most.
Often times, what towns both large and small valued most was their history and culture; and it was obvious in their building quality and styles, uses of their storefronts, events held in their town square, and brands or trades their community took pride in. American Downtowns remained vibrant until the middle of the 20th Century.
The Second Act of American Downtowns became a devastating chapter; hollowing out the things we had once held dear. Many things lead to the decentralization of cities: cars, suburbs, malls, and uniformity of commerce. Effects from loss of vibrancy in our cities contributed to changes in our local economy, our local pride, and our local community interactions.
At least two generations of Americans grew up largely outside of the Downtown and Main Street culture. The second of those generations, Millennials, have driven the revitalization of the American Downtown by becoming “Localists”.
Act Three is the “Comeback”, and it’s happening right now. Millennials, those born roughly after 1980, have embraced Downtown and urban lifestyles they knew once existed or have seen elsewhere. These “Localists” are entrepreneurial, they’ve experience the culture of thriving cities, and they’re bringing it all back to Bismarck’s Downtown. A remigration of the talented, cultured, and uniquely business-minded generation that left North Dakota are making waves in rediscovering what it means to be uniquely Bismarck. They are part of what’s been dubbed nationally as the “Creative Class”.
Many Millennials prefer to use transit than own cars if given the choice. Trends like smaller homes and family sizes, realities of the economy, and shifts in values, are all converging with immense speed and energy to build up Downtown Bismarck.
Dozens of these young localists have opened a variety of businesses in Downtown Bismarck, created local brands, organized new events, and supercharged our somewhat sleepy local pride. To underestimate this group’s effect in our community would be a misstep of epic proportions. The baby boomer parents that raised this generation knew the Downtown lifestyle. Supportive parents have encouraged their Millennial children to leave a legacy, change their community for the better, and value experience over things.
Some say they’re entitled, and they are. They feel entitled to what millions of Americans used to experience but have not valued until recently, localism. But Millennials are willing to work for it, putting their money where their mouth is.
The undercurrent of vibrancy is palpable. It’s creating a homing beacon in Bismarck to those that just “get it”. All generations are starting to embrace the New Old Downtown, following the lead of Millennials. Boomers are moving back to the city, looking to downsize but remain active in retirement. Families are bringing their children to local events and businesses, creating memories and impressions that will shape their children’s values.
Act Three—The Downtown Comeback, just beginning across the country. It’s a perfect storm of hipster logos, shop hopping, bike lanes, local breweries, hometown businesses, sidewalk seating, cheeky events, whimsical shirts, food trucks, urban art, local ingredients, and community interaction. All the things that build community pride, and we’re building it in Downtown Bismarck.
Kate Herzog is the Marketing & Assistant Director for the Downtown Business Association of Bismarck. The Downtown Business Association is a coalition of over 180 businesses and property owners working to promote the business and civic activity in downtown Bismarck for the benefit of the entire community. The organization works for smart economic development in our urban center to produce a financially vibrant area.