The Enduring Magic of Downtown

Petula Clark's iconic "Downtown" featured a session guitarist named Jimmy Page.

Petula Clark’s iconic “Downtown” featured a session guitarist named Jimmy Page.

I love downtowns.

I love cities.
And sometimes you wonder where these “loves” come from.
I’m not referring to the garden variety affection many of us might have for one thing or another, I’m talking about this deep seated feeling you have for things you are passionate about.
I just always loved being in a downtown. Large, medium or small –main streets ‘complete me’ as Jerry Maguire would say.
I like the energy, the hustle and the bustle; the ability to people watch and the sense of discovery.
My favorite big cities: my native New York a city of neighborhoods, Chicago with its magnificent architecture and Boston a big city that feels small and crackles with history.
For midsize cities there’s Pittsburgh, with the Strip District, incline and iconic Cathedral of Learning, Quebec City which is simply breathtaking and the vastly underrated Cleveland which would qualify if it had nothing but the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.
 Small cities hold a special place; Asheville, Portland, Maine, Burlington, Vermont, Gatlinburg (prayers), Brevard NC, St. Augustine, Naples, Cooperstown, Port Jefferson, Camden, Me., Bennington and of course Delray and Boca are my favorites. There are more.
There’s just something about an active and vibrant place that lifts your spirits.
A sense of place and a sense of community are important elements that lifts a downtown. Good architecture never hurts, but is not the most important element.  Places come to life when they are unique, lively and offer a mix of activities and offer an abundance of culture, history and unique businesses.
Nothing mind blowing or unexpected on that list. So why do I love downtowns?
I may have finally figured it out.
Last week, during a particularly melancholy moment at the end of a very long day I got a private message via Facebook from my cousin Judy. She sent me a video of Petula Clark singing her classic “Downtown”. The video was accompanied with a few words: “I remember that this was one of your mom’s favorite songs.”
It was.
My mom, who passed in ’98, loved that song and whenever it came on the radio she would stop and sing along –usually to me and my sister.
Sometimes she would play the record in our living room and grab us and dance when we were very little.
In my memories, it is raining and we are waiting for my father to come from work. In my memories, the song always lifts our mood.
I think my mom could relate to the song in a very personal way. She was very young and working in Manhattan for a large life insurance company when she met my dad. It must have been so exciting to be young in the city with your entire life in front of you. “Downtown” was released in November ’64 two months after I was born and right around her first wedding anniversary. It was a year after the JFK assassination and I can only imagine that the song’s sense of possibility provided a welcome respite.
When you’re alone and life is making you lonely

You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

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 will be great when you’re downtown
No finer place for sure, downtown
Everything’s waiting for you…”

I thanked my cousin for remembering; then I watched the video and my mood brightened instantly.

And I thought to myself: maybe just maybe this is why I love downtowns. Thanks mom: message received.


  1. downtown. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I live and work there.

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