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Only a few years ago, cities were declaring their downtowns dead, victims of regional shopping malls, online retailers and suburban sprawl. But some urban shopping districts have come back big time. “They have what I call the X-Factor of Urbanism. Very cool, historic and filled with interesting shops and restaurants, surrounded with walkable neighborhoods,” says Robert Gibbs, an urban planner who has worked with 300 cities and teaches at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He says vacationers spend more time shopping than on any other vacation activity, making these neighborhoods natural for travelers. He shares some favorite downtown districts with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Broughton Street

Savannah, Ga.

This Southern coastal city, famous for its public squares and parks, has one of the most vibrant downtowns in the nation, Gibbs says. In the last few years, its core has been transformed into a shopping and entertainment destination, marked by careful restoration. One example: Savannah Taphouse, partially owned by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The modern sports bar fits seamlessly in a former theater building, he says.

High Street, Short North Arts District

Columbus, Ohio

Home to Ohio State University and the state capital, Columbus also has one of the nation’s highest per capita percentage of fashion designers, thanks to retailers like the Limited, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, which have their corporate headquarters here. Many employees moved to this once-scruffy neighborhood, and opened boutiques and shops. One…