Are small downtowns really the place to build an independent business, and a life?
I think so! And, I think there are several trends intersecting that make this lifestyle increasingly appealing. But what do others think? Luckily, I knew just who to ask: my talented and thoughtful friends! I’m happy to know many creative leaders, entrepreneurs, social changemakers and placemakers — a few whom I met through this site! You should meet them, too.
Here’s what they said when I asked,
What Trend or Change is Breathing New Life into Downtowns?
(My 2 cents included at the end — yours, too!)
Chris Cain (@StauntonFund) - Staunton Creative Community Fund - Staunton, Virginia
What are the trends I see in downtowns? People! There is a reverse exodus of sorts happening in of ‘politians of all sizes. People! are moving back to our downtowns because they want to be around other People! This togetherness spawns creativity, ingenuity, community (and a whole slew wonderful of “ity’s”). I also think the economic downturn… ahem, catastrophe…has shown many of us that the isolation of the suburbs and the insular nuclear family isn’t what we want and simply doesn’t work. If we are going to improve the quality of our lives, it will be together w/other People!
Justin Van Kleeck – Sunberry Baking Co. - Harrisonburg, Virginia
I would say the rebirth of localization. There has been a remarkable swell of energy devoted to re-localizing everything from our food supply to our financial systems. It is encouraging to be a part of it, on several fronts. As a new small food business owner (with my wife), I am relying on this interest in locally produced food and the desire for direct relationships. Our baking company makes 100% vegan products, utilizing organic, fair-trade, and local ingredients as much as possible. This all is motivated by our own personal values, and gives our neighbors the chance to eat food made with love and compassion.
Meg Hall – Cheese To You - Lexington, Virginia
Becky McCray (@BeckyMcCray) – SmallBizSurvival.com - Alva, Oklahoma
Bridget Russel (@iHeartYakima) – I Heart Yakima! – Yakima, Washington
As we look at communities and micropolitans that are doing incredible things, we continue to be amazed at the power of ONE. Many times, it comes down to one person who has the vision, audacity, enthusiasm – and yes, deep pockets (or friends with deep pockets) – to breathe life into a downtown area. In our region, we see small towns like Tieton and Waitsburg, Washington doing incredible things that inspire us. And all it took was someone willing to stick their neck out and say, “This town has potential. Join me and let’s create something amazing together.” (Bridget & her friends started something here.)
Scott Dadson – City of Beaufort - Beaufort, South Carolina
The City of Beaufort and its Redevelopment Commission and City Council are currently working on several infrastructure projects in our downtown which involve streetscape projects and opening the front door of our city to the water via a daydock, mooring field, and private infrastructure for rowing and kayaking in our downtown waterfront park.
Both infrastructure projects have seen our staff and volunteer boards working on the rules of the game (zoning and form based code efforts) changes that would encourage vertical infill to go along with the horizontal investments. This has meant working with neighbors, institutions, and other groups to make for amiable ends. (Beaufort wrote its own Micropolitan Manifesto!)
Amanda Glover – StauntonBusiness.com – Staunton, Virginia
Reinvention! I love this word. People everywhere are reinventing themselves. Corporate professionals are becoming farmers. Service providers are becoming artists. Government employees are opening businesses. People yearn for a simpler, sustainable lifestyle with more intrinsic value, which more often than not, brings them to small, authentic, culturally-alive downtowns where hardworking, honest people are making a living one day at a time.
Laura Davis – (@Vintage_Karma) – Vintage Karma - Tuscola, Illinois
In our town, there is a push to revitalize downtown. So I guess my answer would be the change is coming from town officials here! They have been working to recruit young business owners with incentives like grant money. There are a couple new businesses set to open in Tuscola in the coming months, and we’re excited to work with them. (Laura talks tattoos here.)
Mallory B.E. Baches – (@SeaIslands2050) – SeaIslands2050.org – Beaufort, South Carolina
Teddy Roosevelt’s “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” is the trend I see building in downtowns. One of the benefits of the truly American institution of the small town is the authentic community provided by the scale where you know the shopkeeper and s/he knows you…it is self-reinforcement that keeps that sense of community thriving, so if the Great Recession has a silver lining, it’s that so many downtowns are turning to their own for support in these tough times, an approach that’s truly sustainable in the long run, too.
Courtney Cranor – Staunton Downtown Development Association – Staunton, Virginia
I see the culmination of several things creating something new – intentional consumerism. The creativity and resourcefulness that naturally occur in an economic downturn heavily affect the return to urban dwelling also fueled by the large (and largely childless) Boomer & Millennial generations. Where these things intersect and meet up with social media you see a blossoming of intentional consumerism. There’s a shift from reactionary frugality to a real sense of pride in a DIY lifestyle, thoughtful choices of locally made products, and an embrace of shaping and supporting community through things like urban homesteading, growing farmers markets, shopping locally, and pop-up ventures.
Kristen Jeffers – (@BlackUrbanist) – TheBlackUrbanist.com – Greensboro, North Carolina
First Friday Art and Culture Walks are revitalizing many downtowns. I live in the slightly more metropolitan Greensboro, but I was in the micropolitan Wilson, NC last Friday at their local college. In the downtown area we were competing with an art walk! I was shocked to hear that they were hosting one. I’ve only associated the area with flooding (Hurricane Floyd), tobacco farms, and isolation (only recently was I-95 routed near Wilson).
Karen Lawrence – (@StauntonMusic) – Staunton Music Guild – Staunton, Virginia
Busking is a downtown trend that delights visitors and residents. Local performers provide a lively atmosphere befitting a larger city while maintaining that embracing hometown feel. In Staunton multiple organizations team up to support a seven-week Friday Night entertainment series with other performers hitting the streets on other nights. As a result downtown becomes a casual, interactive showcase of what can be found in theaters and venues all over the city.
Katie McCaskey – (@KatieMcCaskey) – Urban Escapee – Staunton, Virginia
Renewed interest in walking and biking — for health, alternative transportation, and fun — are two lifestyle trends poised to get even bigger. Compact downtowns allow for easy walking and biking for all ages. Moreover, these activities facilitate a stronger connection to “place” and social participation than a car-based lifestyle. It amazed me that that the WalkScore of our neighborhood in New York City (Morningside Heights) rivaled the WalkScore density of activity for my small downtown! Walking and biking encourage community ties and economic development, too, all good news for micropolitan revitalization.