Thoughts from Main Street Now — The annual National Main Street Center conference

By Whitney Stohr

This week, many of our colleagues working for Main Street Programs across the nation traveled to Kansas City, MO, for the annual conference — Main Street Now — hosted by the National Main Street Center.

Like Selah Downtown Association, each of the programs operates using the Main Street Approach, one of the most powerful economic development tools in the nation. Also like SDA, these organizations are part of their own state-wide Main Street networks. (For us, the state coordinating program is the Washington State Main Street Program.) Those organizations that are certified in their home states may choose to also pursue certification with the national program.

These certified Main Street Programs are an economic force! Across the nation, in 2017, certified Main Street Communities saw $4.48 billion invested in their downtown districts. There were 8,737 rehabilitation projects of historic buildings, and 2.7 million volunteer hours invested. In addition, in Main Street communities, just last year, there were 6,211 new businesses opened, along with 30,294 new jobs. It is obvious that communities benefit from being part of this program!

Another benefit of joining the Main Street network are the opportunities to learn from other communities, both online and at our quarterly meetings in Washington, and from programs offered by the National Main Street Center.

On Monday, representatives from many of these programs converged in Kansas City to take part in the premier, national conference, with planned sessions covering a wide range of topics impacting Main Street Programs and downtown business districts across the U.S.

Topics included small business recruitment and development, cultural tourism and public art, historic preservation, building better public spaces, community engagement, re-designing downtowns to benefit all users, and more!

The National Main Street Center live streamed the opening plenary session on Facebook, and the video is linked below.

 

 

Those in attendance at the conference also live tweeted their thoughts on the presentations and the ideas shared at breakout sessions.

Here’s one of my favorites!

 

One of the key focus areas of the Main Street Approach is economic vitality, which simply means working to strengthen the local economy, support small businesses, and encourage entrepreneurship. These quotes by Donovan Rypkema, from Place Economics, an economic development firm (and shared via twitter by Samantha Armbruster) really reflect that programmatic goal. As Main Street professionals, we do view ourselves, and our programs, as Job Creators, not because we offer subsidies or special incentives to recruit new businesses to our cities, but because we create the type of place they want to be!

Keep scrolling for more posts from those at Main Street Now!

— SourceLink (@JoinSourceLink) March 27, 2018

 

And this is why we do what we do here at SDA! This is why supporting local entrepreneurship matters, and why downtowns matter so much to our community. Downtowns are where locals thrive!

— AARP Minnesota (@aarpmn) March 27, 2018

It is critically important that, when we think about the design of our cities, we consider all users. We must keep in mind how everyone accesses and utilizes our cities. We must stop designing our cities for only one type of user, i.e. the middle-aged, able-bodied, car commuter.

There are 220 Age-Friendly Communities across the country, but in reality, every community should strive to be “age friendly” by keeping in mind the needs of both the young and old, and every resident in between.

 

And speaking of designing our cities for all users… that includes non-car users!

In downtown areas, cars should not take priority over every other type of use. Streets and roadways should be designed to accommodate other non-car uses, including public transit, cyclists and pedestrians. And, furthermore, the sidewalks that line these roadways should be designed in such a way that encourages foot-traffic, and they should be safe and accessible for all pedestrians, including women and children, older adults, and those with mobility issues.

Magic can happen when communities are open to new ideas, which in many cases, requires re-thinking the design and current uses of our public spaces… including our streets.

— Kristen Johnston (@kris10johnston) March 28, 2018

In addition to sessions on street and roadway design, discussion also focused on the best type of development in downtown areas.

I think a rule of thumb remains: If you want a vibrant downtown, don’t build a strip mall. If the goal is to create a unique sense of place, a strip mall probably won’t cut it. Even that vacant, historic building that everyone admits is in need of some serious TLC is still better than a brand new strip mall. Downtown is not the place for cookie cutter buildings.

 

Haha! Just as our communities and businesses benefit from diversity, so too does the national conference!

And, now, a big announcement from this year’s conference!

[Drum roll, please]

The Washington State Main Street Program announced at the end of this year’s conference in Kansas City that the 2019 national Main Street Now conference will be held in none other than our home state!

 

 

Plan ahead, people!

We’ll see you all in Seattle next spring!