Article: How Main Street Can Be Saved
A wonderful report in The Atlantic Cities magazine highlights the rise and fall of Downtowns in small cities, like Covington. It pinpoints what went wrong and when and paints an optimistic tone for the future:
First, the interstate highway system was completed. No longer did people need to travel secondary roads that took them through commercial areas in small towns to get somewhere else, and the routes out to more “open” land were made quicker. So open land was where the newest thing landed like a space ship: the enclosed mall. Where better for shopping than air-conditioned, fully weather-protected spaces that pumped in canned music and canned fountains, where one could find national chain stores – and better yet, tons of free parking?
Second, local demographics and tastes or “lifestyles” changed. In many small towns there began an outflow of newly educated baby boomers looking for brighter lights and better jobs, leaving an aging population behind. At the same time, in the 1960s and ‘70s suburbia exploded, even in small towns. Why live in older housing stock with a neighbor just 30 or 40 feet away, when one could buy a nice, new house on a bigger new lot, in a bright new subdivision beyond the edge of town? And once living out there, wouldn’t it be easier just to drive out to the strip shopping center or the mall, rather than go into town and hassle with parking, in order to get to the drugstore or buy a new shirt?
Finally, local economies changed. Many small towns that had depended upon a local industry or natural resource as their biggest economic component and employer (think steel, coal, textiles or small manufacturing) saw the economies of such sectors shrink or the industry relocate elsewhere where labor or capital were cheaper. At the same time, big banks were swallowing small local ones, changing local financial relationships that had lasted fifty years or more.
Some strategies for returning Downtown to prominence include the use of existing assets to leverage renewal, zoning changes to encourage mixed-use development, and moves toward sustainability. Read the full article: The Atlantic Cities
Photo: Downtown Covington