Designing a Resilient Downtown - Canton

Canton 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. The Resilient Downtowns Case Study Series was designed to highlight best practices regarding small-town downtown development through the creation of community case studies. The project's multi-state team consisted of Extension Educators and Specialists from University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin.

The research team conducted a survey and key informant interviews with elected officials and community leaders in eight different successful Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin communities. The resulting case studies highlight strategies and initiatives that can be implemented in small to medium-sized communities that are looking to redevelop or enhance their main street and downtown areas. University of Illinois Extension, Community and Economic Development Team members worked together to develop this research proposal and conducting the interviews. This project builds on work Extension has been engaged with, including a literature review of successful downtown indicators, Illinois Main Street programming, UIUC Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning Studio and Downtown Canton Assessment. Our research project was designed to create a website featuring a searchable database of successful downtowns enabling users to identify "peer comparison" communities.

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

  • Broad-Based Engagement and Collaboration - The more people are involved, the wider the sense of ownership is for the entire community.
  • Fluid and Open Communication - Clear communication ensures that resources are used efficiently and that nobody is left out of the loop.
  • Established Business Community Mentoring New Entrepreneurs - Using the expertise and resources of existing business owners means that everyone is contributing to building the city's economic base.
  • Thinking and Acting Regionally - Partnership is possible through sharing ideas and thinking deeply about what assets exist in the region as a whole. In this way, the growth of one community translates to the growth of all.
  • Building the Public Realm Through Programming - A downtown that thrives is one that is consistently active with residents and visitors.
  • Recruiting Successful Former Community Members - This strategy, to recruit previous community members with investment capital or to maintain alliances through alumni networks, is one that can possibly do as much for other small communities as it has for Canton.

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

Kathleen Brown, Community & Economic Development Educator, at