• We're a fun, friendly, and diverse group of planners, placemakers, students, and other folks who found their people here. Create your FREE Cyburbia ID, and join us today! Use your email address, or register through your Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Microsoft account.

Downtown revitalization quick wins

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,222
Points
42
In reading all these theories of different catalysts for downtown revitalization and all the if/then statements and such, it made me wonder if anyone has examples of quick wins for downtown revitalization that would be enacted by a planning department or with assistance and cooperation of a business association or chamber of commerce. This would be more towards small historic towns with limited budgets.

In reading some other sites and reports, most of them included visual elements and activity events. The visual elements ranged from landscape planters, to flags, to decorative lights zig-zagging over the main street. However, activity was just that, different events and activities that closed off the street and gave people a reason to get downtown and into the businesses.

What are your thoughts and experiences. What are some quick wins that you have been able to achieve when it comes to revitalization of your downtown.
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
12,445
Points
39
Regular special events that bring people regularly to the downtown area for extended periods.

That is, in my opinion, the best 'low cost' method to reminding people.

Our Main Street program (a private non-profit) was created 11 years ago and went hard into events and within about five years, it was happening.

We do a day long special event at least once a month, but also have a 9a-1p every Saturday outdoor farmer's market, ladies' nights out and, starting this year, first Fridays.

It's been part of the catalyst, but also has been accompanied by strong daytime employment in the downtown (we're the County seat and much of the County offices are right in the downtown), businesses opening that are the operator's livelihood and, I think, a generational shift toward, what I've coined, Small Town Urban.

As for the development review codes and processes, we've also taken a hard look at how we're (the City) are an unnecessary obstacle with excessive procedures and/or regulations.
 

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,262
Points
35
Top Ten low cost fixes:

  1. ask property owners to do window boxes and have a mid-summer contest for the best one
  2. do the same for windows during the holidays
  3. ask anchor businesses in or outside of downtown to sponsor larger planters and put their logo on it - or ask them to sponsor a new bench (banks love to sponsor benches)
  4. if your farmer's market is not downtown, try to move it there, and if it is there, help with a fundraiser for them to have funds to pay a musician to play during the market time (makes the farmer's market more festive)
  5. any owner of any courtyard space (library, bank, offices, whatever) should be approached to partner to have music at lunchtime or weekend afternoons or evenings - or outdoor art shows (crafts too)
  6. get a parade going for a holiday that isn't usually a parade (like Memorial Day or the 4th) but maybe an April Fool's parade, founder's day, zombie halloween parade, homecoming, or any even more obscure holiday - and before, during and after the parade, encourage shops and offices to have sales or open houses
  7. if your town is known for something, have a festival celebrating that history/thing
  8. if your high school wins any championship statewide for any sport, have a parade
  9. call car show organizations and ask them to come visit - have an event to welcome them
  10. have a sidewalk chalk art contest
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
12,445
Points
39
Top Ten low cost fixes:
  1. if your town is known for something, have a festival celebrating that history/thing
That is important. It creates more 'community' and can just be a fun time.

And don't be afraid to 'make one up'. There's a small community in my region that didn't have anything interesting they are 'known' for, so they just made one up and went full tilt on it. They're not shy about the origins and actually celebrate it.
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,222
Points
42
That is important. It creates more 'community' and can just be a fun time.

And don't be afraid to 'make one up'. There's a small community in my region that didn't have anything interesting they are 'known' for, so they just made one up and went full tilt on it. They're not shy about the origins and actually celebrate it.
I like that. There are a few things that we can build off of, but I think that we might need to get creative.

Another thing that I realized is that one department should not go it alone, so I have a feeling that I will be bringing in other departments and organizations to really capitalize on everyone's expertise moving forward.
 

RandomPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,547
Points
22
A few years back we worked a study where we laid out small action steps for downtown. The idea was that they were attainable, short-term goals that a small group of folks could pick up and finish quickly. The categories for our To-Do list were broken up into organization, promotion, design, and economic vitality.

Action items included:
  • restriping parking
  • media and marketing strategy
  • food truck events
  • mobile friendly maps/ app
  • bike rentals/ tour
  • historic preservation education and outreach
  • master trail plan
  • lighting
  • art in vacant store fronts
  • complete streets ordinance
  • gateway improvements
  • park revitalization
  • hire historic tax credit consultant
  • tourism product development
  • market incentive package

I'd say in the past 2 years, maybe half of the goals have been achieved already because they were smaller goals designed to take less time and money. The key that we're probably still lacking is that we need to advertise and celebrate when we finish a goal. That's something I feel like many communities aren't great at -- and because of that, sometimes folks miss what is actually happening and continue to complain that we "make plans that sit on shelves".
 

Planit

Cyburbian
Messages
11,601
Points
35
Our Council wants activity in downtown, but staff (& volunteers) are limited. This summer's activities, besides a concert in July, are large games placed on the Square for anyone to come and play. It'll feature giant jenga, oversized chess & checkers, and such. These are put out in the morning and picked up at dusk with no other staff requirements. We have also teamed up with the horticultural club and they are hosting a plant sale one day.
 

Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
1,594
Points
24
It will be interesting to see if the pieces hang around. Good luck.

Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth, and the adjacent Fairmount residential neighborhood, is almost like a small town inside Fort Worth. Fairmount is a historic area and all homes need to conform to historic standards (homes are roughly a hundred years old, a lot of craftsman and four square style homes). Anyway, Magnolia is the de facto Main Street of Fairmount, and the local residents and business owners have done lots of stuff relevant to this thread.

Infrastructure: They put Magnolia on a road diet, converting 2 lanes each way to 1 lane each way with a center turn lane and bike lanes on each side. More recently, they converted two red/green traffic lights to flashing red lights (4 way stop). They put a pocket park on a vacant lot.

Events: Friday on the Green- one Friday per month they bring in a band and some food trucks and put on a free concert on a grassy area next to a parking lot. People bring lawn chairs and blankets and make a night of it. A couple times a year they have an Arts Goggle. This started out as an art fest featuring local artists and bands. It's quickly transforming into a more regional event and is already almost too big for its britches, so I guess you could call it wildly successful. Once or twice a year they also do an Open Streets event where the street is closed down to motor traffic and a street fair is set up. There's usually a bike rodeo and other events that focus on alternative transit, including city surveys where people can state where they want additional bus routes or bike share stations, plus the usual street fair stuff like face painting, etc. They also have a Parking Day where people/organizations can "buy" a parking spot for a weekend and turn it into their own little park. Some of these microparks are impressive.

These events were, at first, hokey gaggles of neighbors and amateur artists and bands trying to get some free exposure. Over the course of 10+ years they've become major events. For instance, Arts Goggle used to be housed in the businesses along the street, with the businesses "adopting" an artist for the weekend. Now there are so many artists that all the local businesses have resident artists, plus they fill the street besides.



A lot of these events will have interactive activities where people can make their own art, or buildings have murals painted on them during the event. The result is an ever-increasing collection of public art after the events are over.
 

Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
1,594
Points
24
Fairmount/Magnolia is the "model" for an Urban Village in Fort Worth. The success is undeniable, but the downside is that no other area of the city outside of downtown has seen the same degree of success.

There are a few that may be ready to bloom though, including the South Main urban village which bridges between downtown and Fairmount. It's almost an extension of Fairmount but is rapidly developing its own character. Where Fairmount features vintage single family homes, South Main Village has more high density apartments and condos.

Another area that's showing promise is Race Street, northeast of downtown, with a similar captive collection of older homes, plus some new high density housing development. The problem they have is one of identity. Commonly called Race Street for the "main street" of that area, it's also called Six Points Urban Village (owing to a six point intersection on Race Street) and Riverside Arts District. It's an urban village still looking for an identity. It does have the charm that we remember from the early days of the Magnolia Avenue revitalization.

Fort Worth has 16 designated Urban Villages. The Fairmount/Magnolia experience shows that it can take a long time to turn an area around, but that isn't any excuse to wait- the sooner you get going, the sooner you see progress. And (to tie back into the topic) the more quick wins you can score, the more revitalization can be accelerated.
 

WSU MUP Student

Cyburbian
Messages
9,559
Points
30
A couple of "quick wins" that always come to mind when I think of downtown revitalization (and that haven't been mentioned) revolve around signage, particularly gateway signage and wayfinding signs/markers directing pedestrians around town. The wayfinding signs can point to the typical things (parking, city hall, library, local museum, park, historic district, etc.) but you can also offer signage space (for a fee) to local businesses if you need some other things to fill out the signs. Even if there's nothing on the sign that I really want to visit, seeing the signs at least makes me think I might want to.
 
Top Bottom