Throughout the Midwest, there are examples of thriving central business districts. University of Illinois Extension in partnership with the University of Illinois Department of Urban and Regional Planning conducted a literature review to identify common strategies and attributes of successful downtowns in small cities.
The team conducting the review was comprised of faculty advisor Dr. Mary Edwards, graduate research assistant Manish Singh, and Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit community and economic development educator Kathleen Brown.
The indicators for successful downtowns were broadly classified into the Ten Indicator Categories
- Downtown retail development
- Downtown housing
- Organization and partnerships
- Downtown traffic generators
- Preservation and rehabilitation
- Immigration and diversity
- Downtown design
- Branding and promotion
- Downtown finance, employment, and demographics.
The core principle present in all indicators was the need to get more people into downtown areas. Bringing more people into downtowns contributes to expanded business activity and use of services. Some indicators directly focus on economic return. Other indicators recognize the importance of providing unique visitor experiences and illustrate strategies directed towards residential development, leadership, promotion, and the opportunity for new immigrant business development; all contribute a great deal to a vibrant downtown. These indicators define both traditional and contemporary perceptions of success. They provide communities of all sizes an opportunity for making community assessments, identifying benchmarks, and establishing new directions to strengthen their downtowns.
Downtown Success Indicators in Small Cities review of the literature.
MEET THE AUTHOR
As a community and economic development educator, Kathie Brown worked with community leaders, government officials, volunteer groups, small business owners, and others to help communities become stronger and more economically viable. She focused on leadership and organizational development; local government education and relations; economic development strategies; participatory community planning/visioning processes; group process facilitation; collaboration and partnership building; public issue education; and understanding, using and developing data.
Prior to retirement in 2021, Brown worked with organizations and local governments to help them: (1) analyze and understand their needs, (2) identify alternative courses of action, (3) make informed decisions, (4) plan for the future and (5) evaluate their development efforts.
Kathie worked for Extension for almost 40 years, contributing to programs related to community health, digital literacy, STEAM education, and more.