Reviving Main Streets has long been a topic amongst planners, and most likely a topic amongst many throughout communities nationwide. We all have particular images of what we envision when we think of a “thriving” downtown – this may be shaped by where you grew up, places you’ve visited, or even just places you’ve read about or seen pictures of in magazines (or on the internet). In an article from Strong Towns, the author takes his own observations from traveling through a small town and writes this article advising planners, engineers, and city leaders on what not to do to enhance a Main Street or downtown.
Take a few seconds to create a visual image of what your dream downtown, or Main Street, looks like.
For me, it’s a place where people gather; a place that welcomes the community as a place to rest, relax, and enjoy the company of others. It’s a place with bustling storefronts, mixed with restaurants, shops, and unique retail-type spaces. It’s a safe and comfortable place for people to walk around; it’s inviting, creative, and offers opportunities. In the abovementioned article, the author explains that in one community, the city leaders decided the highest priority for their Main Street was moving cars. The outcome of the roadway improvements? A dying downtown. A place that was unwelcoming to anyone outside of a moving vehicle. While it proved beneficial for the movement of vehicles on the US highway, the life of the small-town main street plummeted, to a near non-existent; a ghost town feel.
In our own downtown, there are aspects that could be improved and always ways to grow. Over the last few years, many improvements have been made to make our Square more inviting, to more than just vehicular traffic (kudos to the City of Bowling Green). But more than that, in a year where bars and restaurants, retail businesses, and even friends’ homes are closed for socializing, our downtown has offered a place for families and friends to gather and enjoy one another, outside. This has been noticed particularly throughout December, with all the lights aglow; people lingering and enjoying some small bit of normalcy. So as we look to the future and reflect on the past year, we can see the need for our downtowns to remain a thriving place, full of flexibility and even more creativity. Not just for the welfare of business owners and our economy, but for the welfare of the people. After a year of much upheaval, uncertainty, and rising fear, having a public space or downtown to offer a quiet reprieve from the chaos can bring much life to its people and the environment that surrounds them.