Smart Growth America is a national-level organization that has worked in North Carolina. It has pursued many programs and projects that revolve around the theme of downtown revitalization. These include the Complete Streets Coalition and the (Re)building Downtowns Initiative. In fact, the Complete Streets Coalition had a successful partnership with the predecessor of the Downtown Associate Community Program (the Small Town Main Street Program) in West Jefferson, North Carolina (see story here) showing how collaboration can benefit a community, and how the development themes we have identified and outlined overlap.
The idea behind Complete Streets is that streets are spaces where all people have access to businesses in a safe and convenient manner (be it walking, biking, taking public transit, or driving). Through the coalition, communities work to improve their streets, making them safer to walk, bike, and drive. Typically, adding things like diagonal parking spaces, bike lanes, boulevards with trees and other plants, benches, widening sidewalks, and repairing cracked surfaces are all improvements towards a complete street. These improvements help to revitalize a main street, and tend to complement one another. When there is a more vibrant main street, people want to spend time on it. Likewise, it swings the other way, so a more beautiful street will draw both shoppers and businesses to the area, and the cycle will continue.
The (Re)building Downtowns initiative has been active in urban areas, but can be adopted in a more rural setting. Smart Growth America published a guidebook outlining seven strategies for downtown revitalization, making it possible to hire the organization and receive assistance with revitalization. There is also an option to “do it yourself” with the guidebook, which would require solid leadership and and a serious time commitment.
These initiatives focus on revitalizing downtown areas by creating desirable and vibrant spaces on main streets, which in turn then draws people to those areas and fosters economic vitality. The Iron Range has many small towns with many historic main streets, and using those streets as a platform for economic development could spur a much healthier economy across the region.
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