The Future of Downtown Is the Lifestyle District

December 5, 2023|23 Minutes
Fifth + Broadway lifestyle district
Fifth + Broadway, Nashville

We explore the concept of lifestyle districts and how cities can be designed to be accessible and livable for all on this episode of Gensler’s Design Exchange. As global cities face challenges of density as well as the need to prioritize sustainability and social equity, architects and urban planners must align on best practices for urban design.

The conversation features diverse perspectives across Gensler’s global network, including Duncan Swinhoe, Regional Managing Principal for Gensler Europe, who discusses European cities’ historic approach to designing for walkability, and Kelly Cathey, Co-Managing Director of Gensler’s Nashville office, who highlights the city’s mixed-use Fifth + Broadway development. They are joined by Sofia Song, Gensler’s Global Cities Lead, who shares findings from the firm’s latest City Pulse survey on people’s evolving needs and experiences in central business districts.

Listeners will gain insights on how placemaking can foster livability, accessibility, and social connectivity. The discussion examines urban density case studies that highlight the positive impact of seamlessly weaving new programming into the urban fabric of our cities through human-scaled design, mixed-income housing, and the activation of public spaces.

Top 5 Takeaways

  1. Design plays a key role in the experience and attractiveness of cities — The recent City Pulse survey found that design and attractiveness were among the strongest predictors of a positive experience in central business districts across different user groups. Thoughtfully crafted public spaces and buildings make cities more enjoyable places to live, work, and visit.
  2. Families appreciate the convenience of mixed-use lifestyle districts — Residents with children reported the highest satisfaction levels with living downtown, benefiting from access to amenities, culture, and transit within a short walk or bike ride from home. This showcases the benefits of the 15-20 minute neighborhood model.
  3. Hybrid workers still frequent downtowns for amenities — Contrary to assumptions, two-thirds of hybrid workers continue visiting central business districts to utilize third places like cafes and parks on non-work days, showing these areas remain activity hubs even with increasingly flexible schedules.
  4. Local visitors are an untapped market for place activation — Local residents who don’t live or work downtown report being the least satisfied with their downtown experience, compared to all survey respondents. This insight reflects an opportunity to program public spaces and destinations that foster a sense of discovery, safety, and social interaction.
  5. Vibrant future cities prioritize people, green space, and diversity — Visitors desire downtowns that are designed for inclusive, multigenerational experiences through ample parks and recreation areas, moments that celebrate cities’ unique local character, and equitable accessibility for all community members.
Duncan Swinhoe
Duncan is the Co-Managing Principal for Gensler’s Europe region who is spearheading the growth of the European business across key markets. He co-led the creation of the firm’s Office Developers practice and has a deep knowledge of the trends and issues affecting how people interact with their cities and working environments. He is based in London. Contact him at .
Sofia Song
Sofia is the global leader of cities research at Gensler’s Research Institute, where she leads a cross-disciplinary team to generate new insights and data that position Gensler as a thought leader, working to influence change at the city scale. Sofia also represents Gensler as a Strategy Officer at the World Economic Forum, focusing on how industries can catalyze change. Sofia’s background includes leading research at proptech and real estate companies as well as roles in transit, community, and public space planning in various U.S. cities. She is based in New York. Contact her at .
Kelly Cathey
Kelly is a Co-Managing Director of Gensler’s Nashville office with a focus on creating next-generation destinations that are amenity- and service-rich, leverage technology, promote culture, and create a sense of community. With over 20 years of experience, Kelly is a design-focused leader and project manager with a record of building long-term client relationships, improving processes for successful project delivery, and enabling growth through sound operational practices. Contact her at .
Brandon Larcom
Brandon is a global leader of Gensler’s Product Development practice. As Co-Director of Product Development, he specializes in business development, identifying future design industry trends, and licensing for global product rollouts. Brandon currently hosts and co-produces the Gensler Design Exchange podcast, facilitating a dialogue between design experts, creative trendsetters, and thought leaders to discuss how Gensler is enhancing the human experience through the world of design. Contact him at .