As a country, the United States is probably better characterized by suburbia than by urbanity, by sprawling office parks rather than by dense commercial districts. Nevertheless, the concept of a “downtown”, or a centralized and distinct commercial district, first came into use in America, as cities developed along lines that created stark divisions between the 19th century urban core and the newer, less dense, residential neighborhoods of the 20th century.
The United States boasts countless defined city centers; some of which are small and derelict, while others are among the most impressive in the world. To further examine those commercial cores that tend towards the latter, here is a list of the top ten American downtowns. This list is based on size, vibrancy, architecture, businesses, and general aesthetics. While many smaller cities may boast impressive downtowns, this ranking focuses only on major metropolitan areas.
It’s no secret that the city of Detroit has fallen on tough times. Its downtown core has fared much better than the surrounding neighborhoods, but still has its share of vacant buildings and a frequent dearth of foot traffic. Nonetheless, Detroit’s downtown is one of the most architecturally impressive in the country, largely because the city began to decline before others began urban renewal efforts. These efforts would ultimately scar the cores of those cities. Detroit’s downtown, then, is a remarkable architectural testament to pre-World War II styles of construction. It also remains a center of employment in the greater metro areas, and it has revitalized in recent years with the addition of restaurants and sports facilities. And you can’t forget the legendary automobile manufacturing meccas of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the original symbols of 20th century American innovation.
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