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Perspective

The Next Big Challenge for Small Downtowns

America’s smaller cities are winning people back with an explosion of new residential and entertainment options. Now they need to get serious about private sector job growth—and tech isn’t the silver bullet.
Like many smaller American cities, downtown Cincinnati has many new offerings for entertainment and civic space, but it doesn't have a private sector to match.
Like many smaller American cities, downtown Cincinnati has many new offerings for entertainment and civic space, but it doesn't have a private sector to match.John Minchillo/AP

For downtowns in major American cities, these are boom times. The urban centers of New York and Chicago boast record high employment. In San Francisco and Seattle, there’s an explosion of residential construction, dining, and entertainment options, as well as a commercial rebirth in high-end, white-collar employment.

But in many smaller cities, the downtown renaissance doesn’t rest on such solid ground. Look to downtown Cincinnati or St. Louis and you’ll see large growth in residential and entertainment offerings, and major investment in civic spaces and buildings. What you won’t see is the same level of success in becoming growing centers of commerce.