Across the nation, traditional Main Streets represented one of the most iconic images of America. There you would find a mix of housing, retail and civic uses. The Main Street served as the social and commercial hub of communities. But suburban development, shopping malls, road widening projects, bypasses, etc. have now created deserted and desolate Main Streets.
To turn things back to how they were, many communities are working to restore the historic functions of their Main Street and reestablish them as the central place for a community to gather and experience a sense of place.
A strong sense of place is vital to the health and prosperity of a downtown, especially in smaller cities, to distinguish a downtown or Main Street from regional malls, big-box retailers, or suburban commercial corridors. Main Streets with a strong sense of place can also help transform then into destinations and places people what to go. To best enhance its distinct qualities, a downtown or main street should build upon its intrinsic historic, economic, natural, and cultural amenities. And, a distinctive place embodies a character, look, flavor, and heritage that are not found in other locations.
One approach being used to revitalize and re-invent Main Streets is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NTHP) Main Street® program, a unique tool combining organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring that helps build a complete revitalization effort. The NTHP believes a city or town’s “main street” is the core of a community. And the core of a community becomes a vibrant public place where residents, and visitors, gather to live, work and play – the same outcomes of Placemaking.
A Main Street program will be more comprehensive than the other Placemaking projects and, accordingly, will require more resources and support to plan and manage. But once a strategy is developed, small placemaking projects can be implemented to get the community energized and give them a vision of what could be.
Most states have their own Main Street programs and provide local Main Street organizations with training, tools, information, and networking. Some states, in turn, have regional and local Main Street programs. See a list of Main Street programs in list of Main Street programs in the United States.
Public officials and government agencies are an important partner to see success of Main Street revitalization projects. Zoning, maintenance, traffic and pedestrian activity analysis are important elements of transforming Main Streets. Communities today have the opportunity to revisit the rules that govern their design and development. Revised zoning codes and updated land use plans give communities the ability to revitalize their downtowns as well as shape their future, while protecting their past.
MIplace is a statewide initiative with the purpose of keeping Michigan at the forefront placemaking by making their communities stronger where people gather – from housing, squares, streets and plazas to parks, green spaces and waterfronts. And the Main Street approach is part of their strategy. The Michigan Main Street Center exists to help communities develop main street districts that attract both residents and businesses, promote commercial investment and spur economic growth. Main streets exist as places of civic pride and community congregation.
Using the Main Street Four Point Approach®, downtown Paducah has seen a net gain of 234 new businesses and 1,000 new jobs. Much of this success can be attributed to the re-branding of downtown and the complete remodeling of LowerTown, downtown’s residential neighborhood. Targeting artists to rehab older homes for living and working, along with excellent financial incentives offered by the city and Paducah Bank, the Artist Relocation Program has exceeded everyone's expectation as a revitalization tool for LowerTown.
Platteville, Wisconsin implemented a Main Street program with the belief that Main Street is not only an economic asset, but also the community’s crossroad—a place that evokes strong emotions and helps define the city’s identity. Platteville’s placemaking on Main Street includes a Mural Walk, Music in the Park, and a Farmer’s Market all of which help preserve the historic character of their downtown and give it a “sense of place.”
And…Rick Stallard, a REALTOR®, resident and civic leader, in the village of Seville, Ohio, took a look around Seville’s Main Street and decided something needed to be done. The recession and a set of very limiting zoning codes left Seville’s once-charming main street commercial district 33% unoccupied. It was anchored at each end by shuttered gas stations and a recently closed elementary school loomed vacant nearby. The Medina County Board of REALTORS® (MCBOR) received a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant from NAR to tap into the expertise of consultants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. After an analysis of the area which led to a set of recommendations, which were implemented by the town, Seville has bounced back. The school was sold, grants received to manage the brownfield properties and properties leased with now over 75% occupancy rate. Seville is now a quaint downtown district and a regional destination for antique -and crafts-lovers.
Main Street ® managers and REALTORS® can work together to ensure the right mix of retail to ensure a successful, vibrant Main Street. Bill McLeod, executive director of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, checks on current shops and thinks of potential new ones in trying to bolster his neighborhood’s four commercial strips. “I try to track all the vacancies, “he said. “Walk around the neighborhood and figure out what’s available. I call the broker who handles the building and ask them what they want, and I try to tell them what we’d like to see.”
And Cyril Crocker, a REALTOR®, who manages commercial properties, is a Board Member of the Rhode Island Ave NE Main Street in Washington, DC.
It’s time for you to get engaged to help revitalize your community’s Main Street.
Want to learn more about Main Street and whether it may be an approach for your community to use to help revitalize the downtown? Listen to the recorded version of NAR’s webinar on Main Street.