Downtown Perspective

Community Building — Community Improving

On any given day you are apt to run into several people you know Downtown. Being a small community, and Downtown being the hub of it all, your barista, your hair stylist, your lunch server, your IT guy, your bartender, and your cashier at the clothing shop can all be neighbors down the street, family friends, fellow Downtown employees, or people you have some familiarity with. This is a wonderful, and uniquely-SLO, phenomenon: the idea that you are deeply embedded in a place where people who interact with you on a daily basis are connected with you in multiple aspects, in many ways. In various places in the country, this is impossible. The concept of community is out of reach: one that is tempered by significantly larger populations; a sense of restlessness, skepticism, or anonymity.

Part of our work here at Downtown SLO is to foster that thriving sense of community that is so appealing to those who live, work, and play Downtown. That work requires a lot of thoughtful, meaningful effort: one that simultaneously strives to maintain balance between lots of different entities, honors tradition, and is forward-thinking. We are proud to be stewards of Concerts in the Plaza, now in its 23rd season; our Annual Holiday Parade will have been around for nearly five decades in just a few more years. Every Thursday evening, the entire city (and beyond) has an opportunity to meet and mingle in the middle of Higuera and enjoy our Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, which celebrates 35 years this year. These are long-standing, highly-valued programs that our entire community enjoys free of charge. Any change to these programs requires careful stepping, a keen eye, and respect.
But a growing, thriving community requires change, and resisting it is futile. Can you image if Concerts had the same lineup year after year? Or if our Market vendors sold you the same produce season after season? What if we had the same public transit systems we had thirty years ago? Or never renovated our storefronts, shops, and restaurants? Change, despite its fear, is refreshing. It also affords us the opportunity to improve.

You’ve likely noticed lots of changes around Downtown and in our very own organization as of late. Our CEO, Dominic Tartaglia, has officially stepped down after four successful years helming our organization. As we continue our search for our next fearless leader, Rachel Maiorino, our former Special Events Manager, has taken on the role of Chief Operating Officer. We are also moving offices in a few months, which will improve our ability to reach our community by having a ground-floor space. Downtown itself is also constantly being reimagined and reinvented. As two new hotels take root, Garden Street has undergone a beautiful renovation that is pedestrian-centric. New housing projects abound in efforts to satiate the housing needs of our growing community with a nod to high-density construction. The Creamery Marketplace’s successful remodel is gorgeous, and enjoying an Art After Dark performance on its broad brick patio is wonderful. The single use plastic cup and straw upon request ordinance that recently went into effect is probably the most obvious—and contentious—hallmark of change. (Naysayers, read National Geographic’s compelling article “The Death of the Plastic Straw” for a change of heart, and note that major hotel chains, cruises, resorts, and yes, cities around the globe are following suit.)

In this sense, Downtown SLO’s efforts at community-building are also uniquely tied to community-improving. As Downtown’s champions, we will always strive to honor our history, our businesses, and be sincere to our community. We will also not reflexively reject change at its face value. It requires a cautious, sensible ability to fashion change in a manner that is palatable to tradition and excitingly refreshing at the same time. And, our community is all the stronger for it. As we embark on our new journey—singularly, as Downtown SLO, and together as a community—we hope that you remember that the people who own Downtown businesses, are employed in its shops, and serve in its restaurants are also your neighbors, your friends, or friends of friends.

By Zoya Dixon
Communications & Content Manager, Downtown SLO