Designing a Resilient Downtown

Farmington recently participated in a North Central Regional Center for Rural Development study exploring factors related to a community's success in creating a resilient and vibrant downtown. This project will provide local economic development and business leaders with information to support their improvement of the health, vitality, and resiliency of their downtown districts. Building upon previous work, including a literature review of successful downtown indicators, this project will create a website featuring a searchable database (with perhaps 250 community entries) of successful downtowns enabling users to identify "peer comparison" communities. The idea being that a community can gain insight and learn from the successes of other similar communities. Our collaborators in this project include University of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.

Farmington's case study highlights the following elements as key to their success:

Participate in Federal, State and Regional Programs Aimed at Local Economic Development: New energy and changes in Farmington were initially spurred by involvement in a planning process.

Bring People Together and Work Toward a Common Understanding: Farmington community members and leaders held meetings and discussed shared goals and intentions, thus building a community of invested leaders who were united in their understanding of their goals.

Focus on Community Positives and Find Your Niche: Small towns are qualitatively different from larger ones and comparisons between unlike places can be self-defeating. By focusing on what is possible to be done in a given community, rather than on challenges that cannot be overcome, people can be mobilized towards action.

Invest in Physical Improvements Through TIF and Facade Programs: Physical changes such as façade programs may not immediately directly effect property values, but the affects they have on downtown cannot be discounted. As downtown gets beautified and historic structures are rehabilitated, the possibility of new development increases, while the desirability of the area for new business also increases.

Partner with Nearby Small Towns that Face Similar Challenges: Officials representing the two cities have discussed the possibility of partnering for tourism and marketing purposes.

The goal of this study is to provide local communities with the tools to revitalize their downtowns and develop 21st-century economies. Farmington's efforts provide a wonderful example for similar sized communities throughout the Midwest. You can find the complete North Central Regional Farmington Case Study online.