Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
Someone recently asked me for my take on what it really means to have a “critical mass” of downtown residents. That’s a good question, as the term is often bandied about. So I thought I’d throw out a few ideas, then ask for yours.
Critical mass generally is the minimum amount of something you need to create a self-perpetuating chain-reaction (e.g., a nuclear reaction). I believe in nuclear circles it refers to a stable reaction, but popularly it would imply something that ultimately generates an explosion.
Apply that to downtown residential population, and I see three ways to think about it:
1. Minimum required scale to support an amenity (or to support it cost efficiently vs. what’s typical). For example, you need a certain number of consumers in order to support a downtown grocery store.
2. Following on from that, we might think generally of having enough people so that particular amenities (particularly restaurant and retail) in downtown can be supported by local, as opposed to commuter consumption. In most downtowns today, the customer base of shops and such seems to be mostly from the suburbs.
3. The chain reaction. There’s sufficient population to attract businesses/amenities, which in turn attract more people in a positive feedback cycle that operates self-sustainably. That is, without public subsidies for residential or commercial development.
What do you think?