Memphis, Tennessee, is one of America’s cultural hubs and though I have never been there, Beale Street apparently is a pretty lively place. This article in The Atlantic Cities tries to explain how it got to that point.
The article provides some history of the area, but ultimately argues that private investment may be superior to public investment. The article contrasts Beale Street with a similar region in Kansas City. However, the Kansas City example received government investment and failed to meet expectations, while the Memphis example was privately funded and succeeded.
I’m not a small government zealot and indeed I tend to think public investment can be a very good thing at times. But the Memphis example is interesting. And though Provo is very different from Memphis, small-scale private investment has produced the 100 Block, which remains more vibrant that any other part of downtown.
Finally, the article also notes that each city’s needs are unique:
“America has homogenized retail, restaurant, commercial areas. You can find an Applebee’s in every city, you can find a Chili’s and a Macaroni Grill,” says Elkington. The secret to development, he says, is in creating something that feels right. (Otherwise you’ve got a place that doesn’t fit the city, and its citizens, like a cultural immune system, reject the foreign invader.) “You’re looking for things that are unique and different and special, and you’re looking for people who have unique concepts and have experience in creating these type of areas.” Elkington says the solution is to encourage local and regional business to come in. Make something that’s not like anyplace else, he says, but that could only be there.