Downtown – Everything is Waiting for You


Downtown – Everything is Waiting for You

David Feehan is curious: What makes some downtowns thrive while others need immediate resuscitation? Who designs downtowns? What are the colors of downtowns? What makes some downtowns healthy and full of life? What attracts people to downtowns? 

Feehan has served as a president and CEO of the International Downtown Association for about a decade, and has been involved with this organization since 1986. He invited 11 of his friends to join him in answering these questions in his new book “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow.” 

If a garage is dark, gray and unsafe, why would a woman
want to come downtown?

When I was reading “Design Downtown for Women” the song “Downtown” was playing in my heart. The song was composed by Tony Hatch and then recorded by Petula Clark in 1964. Today, 54 years later, this upbeat song is most relevant to David Feehan and Friends’ book. 

“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely

You can always go 

When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown, no finer place for sure
Downtown everything’s waiting for you … “


 Feehan proposes that women must become most involved in designing today’s downtowns. Women see the world differently than men do. Carol Becker in her essay on Downtown and Color indicates that 8 percent of men in the United States have red/green color blindness. This color blindness is even at a higher percentage in men of Northern European backgrounds. 

Carol states “Our downtowns have been designed by Northern European men, with one of 12 seeing the world in browns, tans and blues. Having a large number of men who can’t see colors like orange or purple may be the reason we don’t see those colors in downtowns.” 

Lack of color is more obvious in parking garages. Feehan in his essay “Making Parking Convenient for Women” says “dull, dark, dirty and dangerous – that is how one woman who was interviewed for this book described downtown parking structure.” 

If a garage is dark, gray and unsafe, why would a woman want to come downtown? Her first interaction with downtown is wayfinding system and then the place where she parks. “A brightly lit parking garage is inviting and feels safe” says Feehan. 

Safety is crucial for women in the daytime and nighttime. Ken Stapleton in his essay “Safety, Design and Market Share” says that we each have a “safety threshold.” That “safety threshold” is different and unique to each of us based on age, gender and especially our past experiences. 

In her essay “Retail and Women, a Retrospective and Personal Reflection,” Karen Nelson says: “Women want to shop where it’s clean and safe but, mostly, they want an environment that makes them say, ‘Yes, this is nice. This is where I want to spend more time.’” Feehan says women make or influence 80 percent of buying decisions. 

Downtowns that are safe, colorful, filled with shops and cafes, wide sidewalks, ubiquitous and clear wayfinding signs, bright and easy to park garages will bring these spending women and their families to these downtown destinations. 

How do we brand downtowns? According to Drew McLellan in his essay “Branding and Marketing Your Downtown to Attract Women” branding is all about learning how to communicate. Women communicate differently than men as well as they receive messages differently than men. Women operate on more emotional level than men. “What you say and how you say it, in terms of marketing messages, are both important to your women consumers. But, it is the emotional side of the brain that will most often thwart a buying decision.” And the emotional side of the brain will also derail that transportation and parking decision. To go downtown or to go the presumably much safer mall. 

Which brings us to Barbara J. Chance, PhD and her essay “Transportation and Parking.” How can we make parking and transportation better for women and thus for everyone else? “Women are under-represented in the management of public transportation. This may be contributing to a lack of input about specific women’s travel issues, as well as design and operating programs that could work toward improved trips for women.” Barbara also says, “those who own and/or manage parking lots and garages can do much better to improve their facilities.” How can they do it better? Talk to, communicate with, listen, engage and hire women. Women do indeed see the world in color and if heard, can lead the way.

What does it mean to lead the way? I asked David Feehan to describe a good leader after reading “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow.” David said: “Good leader is a person who is an instrument. An instrument through whom other people achieve their dreams.” 

And what is the dream here? It isn’t “disruption” or “mobility.” They are just a trend. Barbara Chance says: “Individuals in parking and transportation industry are fascinated with ‘mobility’ and ‘disruption’ these days. I would really like to see some positive ‘disruption’ in basic travel modes – such as improved safety, better design, inviting sidewalks, and smarter wayfinding. These could make travel to downtown better for women – and men.” 

In other words, the dream is the same today as it was in 1964 when Petula Clark first sang “Downtown.” And perhaps today thanks to David Feehan and Friends’ book “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow” this dream of downtown as “no finer place for sure. Downtown everything’s waiting for you” can finally become a lasting reality. Read “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow,” open your mind, gain a new perspective and then build downtowns, where we all are safe and happy! 

Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow by David Feehan, Drew McLellan, Sheila Grant, Carol Becker 2018 David Feehan. Published by Rivers Bend Publishing, 906 SE Waterview Circle, Waukee, IA 50263

ISBN 978-1724662736

Astrid Ambroziak is editor of She can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Astrid Ambroziak
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