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Web Watch

I am going to pat my colleagues on the back for creating a truly fantastic online book, The Best Practices Manual for Historic Sites. It was developed to help stewards of the National Trust care for their sites and landscapes — BUT, once you get past the first few chapters, the content applies to anyone in this field. You’ll find information on disaster planning and developing an emergency response; sample requests for proposals; best practices for greening a historic building and green housekeeping tips; dealing with construction projects and regulatory review; and so much more. Check it out.

Do you know any business owners who are ready to hang up their hats? Instead of scrambling to deal with a vacancy, try helping them with transitioning their business to another entrepreneur. You could find a certified broker through the International Business Brokers Association, or you can check out sites that allow you to list a business for sale online: BizBuySell.com and BizQuest.com.

Grant Announcement 

National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grants. This round seeks projects that support creative placemaking projects that have an arts twist and contribute to the livability of communities. Submit a Statement of Interest no later than March 1, 2011. Grant awards will be between $25,000 and $250,000. Eligible applications will involve a minimum of two organizations (a nonprofit design or cultural organization, such as your Main Street program, and a governmental entity). Check out the other requirements online. Don’t forget to tell us if you get a grant, ok?

Public Spaces Out of Failed Developments

Did you notice our theme this issue — dealing with vacant spaces? Big cities have been addressing this problem, too, using a bit of creativity to temporarily fill the voids created by stalled or failed development projects. Nathaniel Popper of the Los Angeles Times in his December 31st article, “Cities coax public spaces out of stalled developments,” mentioned several cool ideas that have been used to make lemonade out of real estate lemons. When the recession hit, San Francisco turned empty lots it was on the cusp of selling to developers into urban gardens cared for by volunteers. Thrilled with the outcome, the city also installed a temporary beer garden and some cafes. To encourage more of these projects, the mayor’s office is working on a policy that offers developers incentives for making temporary use of land they are sitting on now.

In Seattle, the planning commission held a contest for temporary projects in vacant spaces and posted the 13 winning proposals and the runner-up ideas online (see the details of these projects - search for “Holding Patterns”). These ideas are replicable in many Main Street districts. They include a hockey rink; video installation; performance space; food cart zone; interactive blackboard art; a neighborhood story book; and a climatized, vegetated, transportable bubble structure, among other cool and zany ideas.

Walkable Communities and Taking Back Our Streets

A University of New Hampshire study called “Examining Walkability and Social Capital as Indicators of Quality of Life at the Municipal and Neighborhood Scales” finds that those living in more walkable neighborhoods participated in community projects, clubs, and volunteering more often; and described television as their major form of entertainment less frequently than survey participants living in less walkable neighborhoods.

“We found that neighborhoods that are more walkable had higher levels of social capital such as trust among neighbors and participation in community events,” says Shannon Rogers, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in UNH’s Natural Resources and Earth System Science program. She adds that those who have higher levels of positive social capital have been shown to have a higher quality of life through better health and economic opportunities, among other things. Rogers cautions that the study’s results are mitigated by a possible self-selection bias: “People who enjoy walking may choose to live in more walkable neighborhoods,” she says, adding that it would be naïve to say this study “proves” that walkability affects social capital in neighborhoods.

When it comes to livability, our streets must be designed for everyone — not just drivers. Re:STREETS is convening a working conference/design charrette to develop a design manual for creating streets that balance the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. The conference will be held on July 21-23, 2011, on the UC Berkeley campus. Interested professionals from a wide range of disciplines are encouraged to participate. Learn more. (You must apply for the conference; to do so, click “register.”)

Local Biz Should Be Facebooking

McKinsey & Company recently surveyed some large businesses about social media. Nine out of 10 respondents said using Web 2.0 has yielded measurable business benefits. Some of those benefits include increased marketing effectiveness — 63 percent; increased customer satisfaction — 50 percent; and reduced marketing costs — 45 percent.

In contrast, another study released last year by RatePoint revealed that 47 percent of small business owners don’t think their customers spend time using social media and 24 percent don’t think customers do online research before finding their business. Really? Because ComScore and 15 Miles conducted a local search study, which confirms that shoppers of all ages use the Internet to gather information before heading out to a bricks-and-mortar store. Plus there are a lot of people who really like connecting with businesses through social media because they feel it gets them quick customer service attention. (You can learn more about this study by watching an online webinar.)

Sometimes what works for the big guys works for the little guys — so perhaps you can use this ammo when persuading local business owners to take the social media plunge.