“Downtown is important because it is the heart and soul of the community…” Ed McMahon

People often ask me “Why can’t our Downtown be more…”?   Local success and personal enjoyment may depend on many factors.  But the question highlights why traditional Main Street is the soul of community.

Experts and common sense tell us that suburban Downtowns are places where past and present come together.  Main Street is  where neighbors can connect and share memorable experiences.  And it reflects the unique identity and character of a town. 

Suburban Downtown Inspiration 

I’ve worked with many town planning professionals over the past years, focusing on streetscape design and architectural improvements.  That prompted my founding the Municipal Design Review Network  (MDRN) through DePaul U.  Many of the lessons learned and topics have now been captured in the MDRN summary publication “Creating Community,” recently made available online (free) through the  Chaddick Institute. 

Currently there are even greater challenges in attracting new Main Street merchants in the changing retail economy.  But established planning principles still apply, including the importance of pedestrian amenities and landscaping as shown  in my pic here (JRH, Lake Bluff).

Proven “MainStreet” Model

The national MainStreet model has for decades emphasized the balancing of 4 revitalization principles. My local Downtown in Glenview also continues  to proceed with revitalization and redevelopment as an ongoing real-life example.  Yet the principles for MainStreet which have successfully guided other towns can still apply here.  (Read more below)

The MainStreet  principles can be summarized as:

1. Economics – providing  catalysts for economic growth.

2. Design – preserving heritage while creating  new design elements.

3 .Promotion – showcasing downtowns  as vibrant with diverse events.

4. Organization – empowering community engagement to coordinate efforts.

These aspects are accomplished most effectively  through a dedicated and formalized support organization. In Glenview, I started “Friends of Downtown” as such a volunteer group; but further civic and Village support is still needed. I’ll save those  details for another day.  For now let’s rally our efforts  so that our Downtowns can remain a source of pride and vitality for future generations.