Making Main Street work
Kaid Benfield shares his 5-point recipe for making a successful Main Street.
While some Main Streets seem well past their prime, others – like Corning’s – remain thriving to this day. Why? A lot of it has to do with the towns and cities in which they are located, of course; it’s hard to have a well-functioning Main Street in a down-and-out community. But there are also elements of design and context that matter. What are they? The answers matter to sustainability, because traditional Main Streets tend to have central locations and good walkability, both of which reduce carbon and other emissions associated with driving; over time, they also recycle land, buildings and infrastructure.
He goes on to list 5 elements: A superior pedestrian experience, Density at a human scale, Viable local businesses, Nature and Nearby residences.
I wouldn't argue against any of those as elements; they're all essential.
But I would add two other factors that are critical, and not so easy to achieve. The first is leadership. Cities and main streets need thoughtful leadership and champions. If you look behind the curtain of any really successful place, you'll find someone or some small group of someones that were instrumental in making it happen. The ingredients alone won't do it, no different than how a lousy cook can screw up simple food.
Secondly, and even harder to define, is the social element. Yes, the pedestrian experience is integral to this. But it's the effect as much as the cause. People walk to experience a place that feeds them socially. If there are places to stop, talk and stare, they will come. If there are the sights, sounds and presence of other humans, they will come often. And when a place works well socially they will walk there more. Plenty of main streets and downtowns can do well on the basic ingredients, but if they lack the simple social element, they will remain fragile.