President's Note

As I write this, I’m sitting in one of my favorite places, the Brothers K Coffeehouse at the corner of Hinman and Main Street in Evanston, Illinois. I come here every chance I get, which is four or five times in the average week. I love the friendly energy and the familiar faces—and the din of coffee shop chatter and the espresso machine are the perfect backdrop for writing. This coffee shop is Evanston’s answer to the traditional Irish public house, where people of all ages come and go throughout the day, sipping coffee leisurely, meeting up with friends, working, reading, or just absorbing the atmosphere.
 
Brothers K is a fitting setting for a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately—placemaking. The concept of placemaking had its rise in the 1970s and, according to the Project for Public Places, is usually described as a “multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces,” such as streets, plazas, squares, and parks. Placemaking is taking on renewed importance as communities across the country begin to understand the connection between creating quality urban places and attracting new business and residents; in short, in a world where people and businesses have many choices about where to locate, quality urban places are vital to a city’s overall economic competitiveness.

Yet quality places—competitive places—need much more than just attractive streets and parks. Why walk down a street if there’s nowhere to go? America’s small businesses—privately owned spaces that become central to an experience of a community—are essential to drawing people out into the public sphere, meeting human needs, as well as delighting and inspiring.

The Main Street network has played a singularly important role over the years in driving exactly this sort of comprehensive placemaking: working to cultivate the growth of small business, building safe and attractive streets, creating events and festivals that establish a clear sense of place, and much, much more. True to the principles of placemaking, Main Street does this all in a way that is grassroots oriented, volunteer driven, and a reflection of community consensus.

I was struck recently when a friend ventured the observation that part of the challenge with placemaking is that no one in either the public or private sector has the job or responsibility to “create places.” That may be true in the average community. But Main Street communities aren’t average communities, and one of the distinctive successes of the Main Street approach is the genius of having at least one person in the community whose job it is to make a place. Main Street managers and directors might just be the original placemakers!

This issue celebrates the impressive success of three remarkable places, this year’s Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) winners: Rochester, Michigan; Ocean Spring, Mississippi; and H Street Main Street in Washington D.C. Each of these Main Streets has worked tirelessly to reverse the cycle of disinvestment in their commercial districts by making local small businesses their highest priority and building an unwavering brand that infuses everything they do. They are models of Main Street success.
 
In addition to profiling this year’s GAMSA winners, this issue also hits on a diverse collection of topics relevant to creating stronger, more vibrant communities. Kristi Trevarrow, Executive Director of the Rochester (Michigan) Downtown Development Authority, offers insights on how to strike just the right mix of businesses in your community, while Julie Glover, the Economic Development Program Administrator of the City of Denton, Texas, recounts how her fast-growing community has worked to handle public demand for food trucks while addressing the resistance of local bricks-and-mortar restaurants to these mobile eateries. NMSC Senior Program Officer Todd Barman explores the importance of wayfinding to a visitor’s experience of a place, and offers tips on how to enhance wayfinding in your community.

I hope you enjoy this issue—please join us on Facebook and Twitter (@NatlMainStreet) to share your thoughts and see the latest news from the Network.