Skip to main content
Campus Engagement in Our Unit

Downtown Success Indicators, A Review of the Literature

August, 2014 North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Extension, University of Wisconsin Extension, Iowa State Extension.

Maintaining and revitalizing a downtown plays a critical role in overall economic development strategies, as a vibrant downtown infrastructure not only represents good use of land and infrastructure resources, it can also be a powerful tool spurring new business development. Throughout the Midwest, there are examples of thriving central business districts. Through a literature review, conducted in partnership with University of Illinois Department of Urban and Regional Planning graduate research assistant, extension educators and specialists were able to identify common strategies and attributes of successful downtowns in small cities. These key practices that contribute to successful downtown business development initiatives can serve as a foundation for small downtown program design and implementation.

The review considered a broad spectrum of literature from the disciplines of urban planning, urban policy, business development and retailing. Literature that focused on 'best places to live', downtown success stories, and academic research were all included as part of the review. Twenty five core references were identified which include online resources, books, academic papers, Great American Main Street Award winners, Crampton's list of 100 best small towns in America, Downtown Idea Exchange, Destination Development International report, and American Planning Association list of great neighborhoods were among some of the references reviewed.


The data gathered through the literature review provides a valuable tool and reference for educators in designing community and economic development programming. These indicators define both traditional and contemporary perceptions of success. Traditional indicators show success in retail and finance; however, more recent indicators focus on immigration, design, housing, organization and promotion. The indicators provide an opportunity for community assessment, identifying benchmarks and establishing new directions needed to strengthen downtowns. This research will provide valuable information for economic development professionals and local community leaders in their pursuit of developing a resilient downtown.

Downtown Success Indicators, A Review of the Literature