What Is the 'Central Social District'? And Why Does It Matter?

The Central Social District is the next wave of downtown investment and it's redefining successful communities.

For decades, the terms “Central Business District” and “downtown” were used almost interchangeably. And, for decades, this made sense to do. 

Functionally, downtowns were dominated by:

  • Retail
  • Offices
  • Government agencies
  • Hotels
  • Entertainment venues

These are all important functions for a downtown. But they are only part of the picture. If we define success solely within these parameters, we are missing an opportunity.

That’s because how we understand the function of our downtowns is evolving.

Defining the “Central Social District”

Today, in downtowns large and small, the central business district functions are being rivaled — or even surpassed — by their Central Social District functions.

Central Social District functions include:

  • Housing
  • Restaurants
  • Watering holes
  • Entertainment niches

That last one, entertainment niches, includes more than formal venues like cinemas, theaters, museums and concert halls. It also includes parks, plazas and other informal entertainment venues — such as libraries, art venues, and many others.

Why the Central Social District matters

A vibrant Central Social District matters because it improves the quality of life for residents and creates a dynamic experience for downtown visitors.

Understanding the Central Social District, innovative downtown leaders and community planners are looking beyond the draw of specialty retail and entertainment. They are seizing on a major opportunity to re-brand and fully embracing the downtown as the "heart of the community" — as a place where people come to gather, celebrate, meet friends and make new ones.  

Innovative leaders are thinking about our cities, towns and villages as more than the engines of commerce. They are investing in the power of people coming together, and they understand that success is an ongoing revolution.

About the Author

Andrew Dane

Andrew Dane is a senior planner and community development specialist with 20 years of public and private sector experience assisting small and medium-sized cities. Contact Andrew

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