While Des Moines, Iowa is a city with a population density of only 2,527 people per square mile and rapidly expanding suburbs, one neighborhood in the downtown core has managed to maintain some urban character. With its many boutique shops and noticeable lack of national chains, The East Village contributes a unique charm to Des Moines. However, whether this neighborhood can maintain this small business culture is another matter.
The East Village is a neighborhood in Des Moines that encompasses the State Capitol and lies on the banks of the Des Moines River. Much of the historic architecture in the district has been protected against demolition, with eight of of the area’s buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood is filled with boutiques, local restaurants, and bars. There is new development occurring as well, with a mixed-use development slated to open in November. The retail space in this development is already fully leased.
A unique feature of the city of Des Moines and the East Village is the dearth of chain restaurants and stores. While this may simply be the result of national chain retailers choosing to locate in major shopping centers located in suburbs, such as West Des Moines, rather than the downtown area, their decision is not a disservice to the character of the city. The local and eclectic nature of the storefronts in the East Village provide a sense of culture and liveliness that the city needs in order to attract young people to live there.
The neighborhood is not without its issues, however. Despite the unique retail scene, it’s hard not to notice a certain lack of pedestrian activity. The neighborhood isn’t exactly a shopping mecca, especially in comparison to the mammoth shopping center located in West Des Moines. As a result, shoppers are drawn to the suburbs. The car-devoted streets and narrow sidewalks in the East Village also discourage pedestrians. The small-business culture in the East Village may not be sustainable without sufficient pedestrian traffic.
Luckily the city seems to be aware of its issues, and is currently considering long-range redevelopment options for the East Village. This could mean the development of community gathering spaces or a pedestrian boulevard. Carrying out this plan for the East Village is necessary in order to foster the small businesses that are so important to the city of Des Moines.
Is there a commercial district in your city that suffers from a lack of pedestrians? What is your community doing to reenergize pedestrian poor areas?
Credits: Images by Molly Carpenter. Data linked to sources.