Did you know Hammond was one of the first four Main Streets established in Louisiana in 1984?
What is Main Street?
Main Street is a national movement that began in 1980 and has since taken root in more than 2,000 communities - a movement that has spurred $49 billion in reinvestment in traditional commercial districts, galvanized thousands of volunteers, and changed the way governments, planners, and developers view preservation. Over the years, the National Main Street Center has overseen the development of a national network of coordinating programs that today includes statewide programs, citywide programs, and regional programs. These coordinating programs help cities, towns, and villages revitalize their downtown and neighborhood business districts. Coordinating program staff help build the capacity of local Main Street programs, expand the network of Main Street communities, provide resources and technical assistance, and work with the National Main Street Center to explore new solutions to revitalization challenges and respond to emerging trends throughout the nation.
Why Main Street Matters
We all know where our Main Streets are, but do we know what they are and why they matter? Whether they are named First Avenue or Water Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard, what they represent is universal. Main Street is the economic engine, the big stage, the core of the community. Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play.
So what is Main Street? The phrase has been used to describe everything from our nostalgic past to our current economic woes, but when we talk about Main Street®, we are thinking of real places doing real work to revitalize their economies and preserve their character. Specifically, Main Street® is three things: a proven strategy for revitalization, a powerful network of linked communities, and a national support program that leads the field.
The Main Street Approach
The Main Street Approach is a common-sense, strategy driven framework that guides community based revitalization efforts. Building off more than three decades of success, this model harnesses the social, economic, physical, and cultural assets that set a place apart, and ultimately leads to tangible outcomes that benefit the entire community.
Main Street-style transformation is a combination of art and science: communities first need to learn about the local economy, its primary drivers, and its regional context (the science), but they also need to convey that special sense of place through storytelling, preserving the older and historic structures that set it apart, broad and inclusive civic engagement, and marketing (the art). To support this powerful network, Louisiana Main Street has a revitalization framework—the Main Street Approach—that helps communities leverage both the art and science of downtown revitalization to create a better quality of life for all.
The Main Street Approach is most effective in places where community residents have a strong emotional, social, and civic connection and are motivated to get involved and make a difference. This approach works where existing assets—such as older and historic buildings and local independent businesses—can be leveraged. It encourages communities to take steps to enact long term change, while also implementing short term, inexpensive and placed-based activities that attract people to the commercial core and create a sense of enthusiasm and momentum about their community. Both small-city downtowns and urban neighborhoods throughout the nation are renewing their community centers with Main Street methodology.
The result of these community-driven efforts are places with strong social cohesion and economic opportunity; they are places that support and sustain innovation and opportunity; places where people of diverse perspectives and backgrounds come together to shape the future.
It's helpful to think of the Main Street Approach consisting of three tightly integrated components: community visioning and marketing understanding (the inputs), transformation strategies (implemented using the Four Points), and implementation and measurement (the outcomes).
1. Identify the Community Vision for Success
The Main Street Approach begins with creating a vision for success on Main Street that is rooted in a solid understanding of the market realities of the district, and is informed by broad community engagement. Main Street promotes a community-driven process that brings diverse stakeholders from all sectors together, inviting them to be proactive participants in the revitalization process. This essential step provides a foundation for outlining the community’s own identity, expectations, and ideals while confirming real and perceived perceptions, needs and opportunities. It also ensures that the vision is a true reflection of the diversity of the community.
2. Create Community Transformation Strategies
A vision of success alone is not enough. Communities must work together to identify key strategies, known as Community Transformation Strategies that will provide a clear sense of priorities and direction for the revitalization efforts. Typically communities will find two to three Community Transformation Strategies are needed to help reach a community vision. These strategies will focus on both long and short-term actions that will move a community closer to achieving its goals.
Work on these strategies would align with the four key areas Main Streets have been using as a guiding framework for over 35 years: Economic Vitality, Promotion, Design, and Organization, known collectively as the Main Street Four Points.
3. Impact and Measurement
To succeed, Main Street must show visible results that can only come from completing projects – both shorter and longer-term activities that add up to meaningful change. Activities aligned with shorter-term strategies focus on highly visible changes that are a reminder that the revitalization effort is under way and succeeding, helping to secure buy-in from community members and rallying volunteers. Placemaking strategies – those actions which focus on what can be achieved “lighter, quicker, and cheaper” are particularly effective and important in energizing the community and demonstrating short-term progress.
While shorter-term, highly visible activities are critical to Main Street’s success, communities must also sustain focus on implementation of longer-term projects and activities that are the building blocks for substantial change over time. Identifying milestones for these longer-term projects can be important in creating a sense of forward momentum and reinforcing to the community the need for sustained focus on revitalization efforts.
Coinciding with implementation is an equally important focus on measuring progress and results. Healthy Main Streets are built on a commitment to measure outcomes. We live in a time where public resources are scarce, and competition for private resources is fierce. Main Streets must be able to demonstrate the wise use of resources, which translates to real change on the ground: new jobs added to a Main Street, new businesses open, buildings redeveloped, and numerous other metrics of success. Louisiana Main Street, together with our network of more than 30 local Main Street partners, works to make measuring results on Main Street easier and accurate.
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