The Unifying Power of Main Streets: Healing and Community on Main Street

Posted on March 15, 2023

A scene of a city street lined with trees and pop-up tents. Chalk art is visible on the asphalt.

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Kevin Teater, Partner, Streetview Planning LLC, and City Councilor, City of Beaverton, Oregon. Find Kevin on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

What I’m Listening to: Hope by NF

What I’m Reading: Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh

What I’m Watching: 1. Shrinking, 2. Severance, 3. Last of Us

What I’m Doing: Writing an article between a few community events

Main Street districts are amazing places. The historic buildings, walkable streets, exciting small businesses, and interesting people – it’s all so special. The Main Street district is often the heart and soul of the city. When it is thriving, the city is usually thriving. When it is suffering, people feel it too.

In the downtown historic preservation and economic development world, there are organizations that follow the Main Street Approach, which is basically a strategy for revitalizing downtowns. These Main Street programs are the “boots on the ground” for many communities, providing direct technical support for businesses and access to resources that may not otherwise be available. They also plan events and connect people to the district.

I was recently talking with a struggling Main Street organization. Relationships had been strained, and progress had slowed or stagnated. People were tired, and yet these community leaders felt an impressive commitment to serving their community, if only they could get the process improved and the right leadership in place. People were frustrated, but honestly there was reason for hope, and the action steps forward became clear.

In talking with the community, downtown stakeholders felt a similar commitment. “I know what Main Street can be. I’ve seen it. We need this, and we can do this.”

This specific community had a diverse array of political perspectives and demographic backgrounds. And yet, they all shared a desire for a healthy Main Street organization and district. The nature of Main Streets, the nature of local, can mend burnt bridges.

“There’s a lot of pride here,” someone told me (which is something I actually hear quite often when talking with communities like this). 

“There’s power in numbers,” someone else said as they expressed their desire for collaboration on Main Street. “The rising tide lifts all ships.”

Owning a small business is hard work. Managing economic development and historic preservation on Main Street is hard work. Navigating relationships and working through controversial political processes is hard work. But it’s worth it.

I’ve worked in several communities in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve worked in several others in rural Appalachia. A similar theme almost always emerges. So, what makes Main Street special? Why do people do this work?

“We do it for the locals.”

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