Revitalizing downtowns critical to community vibrancy

It is no secret that small communities play a critical role in shaping our society, and the vibrancy of their downtown areas is paramount to an overall vibrant future.

As urbanization continues to trend globally, the significance of small towns and their downtowns' role in the overall picture cannot be overstated. Let's take a look at just a few of the reasons the revitalization of downtown areas is crucial for the long-term well-being and sustainability of small communities.

Revitalizing downtown areas stimulates economic activity that leads to job creation opportunities. According to a study by the International Downtown Association, every dollar invested in downtown revitalization generates an average of $18 in local economic impact. This impact is felt through the job creation in retail, hospitality and other sectors.

A vibrant downtown positively affects property values in the surrounding areas. The National Trust for Historic Preservation reports that property values tend to be higher in neighborhoods with well-preserved and active downtowns. This not only benefits homeowners but also contributes to increased tax revenue for the communities.

Downtown areas often serve as the heart of a community, reflecting its history and identity. Revitalizing these spaces helps preserve cultural heritage and fosters a sense of pride and belonging among residents. According to a study by the Project for Public Spaces, strong community identity certainly contributes to higher civic engagement. That means more people voting, volunteering and donating within the community. A bustling downtown provides spaces for community gatherings and events, promoting social cohesion. The American Planning Association highlights the role of public spaces in building social connections. Events like farmers' markets, festivals and parades draw people together, fostering a sense of community.

Revitalizing downtown areas promotes smart growth principles, reducing urban sprawl and promoting sustainable development. The Environmental Protection Agency emphasizes the importance of compact, mixed-use development in downtowns, leading to reduced traffic congestion. When communities incorporate well-designed downtowns that prioritize walkability and green spaces, the overall look and feel contribute to a healthier environment. The American Planning Association reports that walkable neighborhoods have a positive impact on residents' physical and mental well-being. Green spaces enhance air quality and provide recreational opportunities.

Downtown areas can serve as incubators for innovation and entrepreneurship. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses are the lifeblood of local economies, and downtown revitalization provides a platform for startups to thrive. The clustering of businesses fosters collaboration and creativity. A vibrant downtown is a key factor in attracting and retaining a talented workforce. The Brookings Institution notes that young professionals are increasingly seeking communities with lively downtowns that offer diverse cultural experiences and amenities. This contributes to the community's long-term vitality.

While I could go into singular columns using examples of successful transitions from decaying downtowns to vibrant and productive hubs, one need not look any further than communities such as Galena or Ottawa, Illinois, Greenville, South Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Galena and Ottawa both reinvented their local downtowns, turning them into places where people from all over the region come for the experience, to dine and to shop. Greenville transformed its once-declining downtown into a thriving cultural hub, leading to increased tourism and business investment. Chattanooga invested in public spaces and infrastructure, resulting in a renaissance that boosted economic activity and city pride.

As we said at the beginning, the critical nature and importance for small communities to rebuild their downtowns cannot be overstated. The economic, cultural, social, and environmental benefits that come from downtown revitalization readily contribute to the overall resilience and sustainability of these communities. The many studies and facts available support the tangible and intangible impact of investing in downtown areas, making a compelling case for prioritizing the revitalization of small-town cores. As we look to the future, recognizing and supporting the unique role of downtowns is essential for building vibrant, resilient and thriving small communities. Let's all work on ways to expand the role of our downtowns and the potential impact that can have on our communities.

John Newby is a nationally recognized columnist, speaker and publisher. He consults with chambers, communities, businesses and media. His Building Main Street, not Wall Street column appears in 60-plus newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at [email protected]. Opinions expressed are those of the author.