Two small-sized cities in the MAHCC area of service--Frederick, MD and Alexandria, Virginia--made the Top 10 List of the Best Downtowns in 2014. The list is drawn annually by Livability.com, an organization whose mission is to understand "what makes small to mid-sized cities great places to live, work and visit." Old Town Alexandria was ranked fifth and Frederick sixth. Fort Worth, Texas was rated first.
The selection process initially includes an analysis of recent mixed-development projects, balance between historic preservation and congruent new construction, ratio of people who live and work in downtown, recent improvement in retail and office vacancy rates, livability and walkability, adequate public safety and transportation including parking and bike lanes, sustainability, a collection of restaurants with different price ranges and cuisines, unemployment, ability to atract all types of residents from surrounding neighborhoods and suburbs, and cultural amenities.
But, the effort goes beyond numbers. In order to fully appreciate the vibrancy and attractiveness of a downtown, Livability.com takes advantage of its experienced and well-traveled staff to visit different cities to look at the physical environment and infrastucture, feel the energy of the downtown, hear the street sounds and talk to a wide array of locals and visitors, in order to understand the physical and human elements and business organizations and programs that hold a strong attraction for residents.
According to Livability.com, "the best downtowns foster creativity, inclusion and innovation. They showcase what is good about a community by offering a diverse array of local architecture, art, lifestyles and things to do. Great downtowns unite residents from all walks of life, even those in the suburbs, by providing places to connect. Above all, the top-performing downtowns must maintain a high level of energy and give all residents in a city a reason to come on down."
Downtown Frederick emerged from economic decline during the late 1960s but suffered a devastating flood in 1976. However, according to Livability.com, "perhaps its greatest comeback stems from recent revitalization efforts that helped turn the downtown area into a magnet for East Coast artists." They include the creation of Carroll Creek Park alongside the creek that caused the flood, the red-brick pathways that line the creek's banks and the curved bridges that span the creek on either side of Historic Market Street. The gentle skyline is punctuated by church steeples rising above 18th-century buildings, and its charming main street is host to many historic buildings housing martini bars, boutique shops, and art galleries.
Rare is the Maryland City that can compete with Frederick's successful historic preservation accomplishments. More than 2,500 historic properties in the downtown area have been renovated for modern use while preserving Colonial-era architectural elements. Just like Old Alexandria, which edges the Potomac River to the south, Frederick's downtown begs to be discovered by the million-plus visitors that come every year. Additional key indicators of success are a 5.8% unemployment, a 4.04% average income growth, and a 5.8% vacancy rate.
Old Town Alexandria, a truly riverine city that was part of George Washington's stomping grounds, was ranked # 5. It features one of the best preserved examples of colonial architecture in the country and it is visited by millions of people annualy, both for the city itself with its cobblestone streets and century-old buildings, and also for its proximity to Mount Vernon, George's Washington colonial home and plantation.
More than 7,000 people live in Old Town contribute almost half ot its workforce. If the value of real estate is location, then Alexandria's even greater importance lies in its sophisticated waterfront setting, which is within view of the Washington Monument and is a sight to behold at night. Positioned alongside the Potomac and a stone's throw from our Nation's capital, this jewel of a town boasts boutiques and restaurants set in 18th-century buildings. Steeped in history and enlivened by art and entertainment, it is not only a must-see place to visit, it is a desirable place to live.
Understandably, Old Town is a community of choice for many of the Washington elite and it as been the setting for date nights for the President and First Lady. Soon, the city will welcome a new neighbor. The National Science Foundation's anticipated relocation from Arlington to Alexandria will ensure that national and international scientists and research administrators that visit NSVF annually will add another dimension to the richness and diversity of Old Town Alexandria. Additional key indicators for Alexandria were an even ratio of residents to jobs and a 4.6 percent unemployment.
Congratulations to the cities of Frederick and Alexandria to their residents, elected officials and business community for making their city center attractive places to work in, live, and visit.