Peter Panepento, writing at the Outside Erie blog, writes about a problem that’s overlooked in the effort to reenergize downtown Erie.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the efforts to spruce up and revitalize downtown (and that is a crucial effort).

But we haven’t paid much attention to the next ring of development surrounding downtown before we reach the wealthier suburbs.

Many of the vacancies alluded to in Ian’s piece are the direct result of the retail development boom on upper Peach Street and the shift in wealth from the edges of the city into Millcreek, Summit, Fairview and the like.

For decades, places like Liberty Plaza were central to folks who were doing their weekly grocery shopping, their trips to the drug store and to specialty shops like jewelry stores and sporting goods operations.

But many of those folks with disposable income have moved out of that part of town and into bigger homes in the burbs. And the retail explosion on upper Peach Street has attracted all of those dollars.

The stores that remained in the inner ring have slowly struggled and died — leaving behind the carcasses of buildings that have no demand.

I fear that situation will only worsen for awhile. As more anchors like Value City leave town, shoppers have fewer reasons to trek to the remaining stores in those areas.

Soon, the vacancies will creep further out from the inner ring and the sprawl into the suburbs will continue.

First, I think it’s great that we do have people like Peter writing about these issues.  We have seen many downtowns of northern cities, especially those in the Rust Belt, decline over the late ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s.

Too many times there are factions in these local communities that turn a blind eye to the common good and, instead, focus on their own interests in efforts toward redeveloping and modernizing these small towns and cities.  A case in point would be my hometown of Salem, Ohio — it has a lot going for it, probably more than most of the officeholders there realize, but no one can agree on anything, and so it usually misses the boat on many opportunities.

Peter’s blog is part of a larger website called Global Erie, which “[puts] Erie’s brain drain to use,” as it notes on the site’s banner.

One thing that’s encouraging to me is that Millennials are tending to want to live/work back in the city.  Those post World War II suburbs, built when the car was rapidly becoming a staple of American culture and society, are suddenly a bit too far for comfort now that gas prices are $4.00/gallon and higher.  Moving young people back into urban communities (I say urban to include not only big cities but small towns as well) will hopefully inject some new life into these communities.

I’m glad that Peter pointed out that the outside core of big cities like Erie are also waning and get little attention, but I do share Peter’s view that, in Erie’s case, we need to focus on reinventing the downtown.  The success of that effort would then form the tailwind for the secondary effort of revitalizing the outskirts.

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