Evaluating Downtown Dynamics: Undergraduate Honors Thesis
As a senior at UNC Chapel Hill I chose to write an undergraduate honors thesis. "Evaluating Downtown Dynamics" was awarded Highest Honors by my faculty committee in the Department of City and Regional Planning.
The paper presents an improved methodology for evaluating the quality of downtowns, with consideration to downtown's accessibility (urban form & transportation), its economy (employment & real estate), community (downtown as a residential neighborhood), and identity (distinctiveness, culture & activity).
GIS was integral to my research. I relied on ArcGIS software to process and clean data throughout my thesis work.
Most of the GIS work happened behind the scenes without showy visual results, but the maps below were created to illustrate the challenges of defining downtowns, and to critique downtown definitions used in prior research.
The map above illustrates the shortcomings of a common downtown definition: the x-mile radius. Defining New York City with a 3-mile radius of city hall would include large areas of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and the Hudson and East Rivers.
The maps above illustrate the trouble with defining downtown with census geographies. All major downtown research has simplified downtown boundaries to the census tract level.
All four maps (click to enlarge) show locally defined downtown boundaries and the census tracts whose centroids fall within those boundaries. The upper two show that census tracts can be reasonable building blocks for downtown geographies in major, populous downtowns like Chicago and Philadelphia.
The two maps below illustrate how poorly census tracts represent smaller, less populous downtowns like Durham and Raleigh. In Durham, the three tracts cover an area more than twice that of the local definition and would more than double the residential count from the 2010 Census. On the other hand, only one census tract has a centroid in Raleigh’s 1.47 square mile downtown. An approximation of downtown using this tract would result in an area roughly half the size of the local definition, missing many primary jobs.
Maps were created in ArcMap and exported to Adobe Illustrator for styling.