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Downtown Revitalization

Many rural communities are engaged in revitalization efforts to renew downtown areas and restore them to their former prominence as a center of community activity.

On this page, find information, funding sources, and more to assist a community considering a downtown revitalization project.

Information for Rural Communities

Planning Tools, Case Studies, Funding Sources, Contacts, Revitalization Strategies, and more
Regional Rural Development Centers

The four regional rural development centers coordinate rural development research and extension education through out the United States. They focus on social and economic problems common to rural areas of the region through a cooperative multi disciplinary effort, including financing, public services, fiscal analyses and leadership roles. They study economic development, improved community facilities and services, capacity building and natural resources.

Community Planning Resources
  1. Citizens' Institute on Rural Design [rural-design.org] CIRD is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council. Find resources for arts and culture, downtown revitalization, growth, heritage and preservation, land and agricultural conservation, and transportation. Resources available in various formats, including case studies, how-to guides, and reports.
  2. Creating Resilient and Vibrant Downtowns. [wisc.edu] University Extension Programs and Resources for Downtown Development. Provided by Universities of WI, IL, MN, and Iowa State University. 
  3. Downtown and Business District Market Analysis: Using Market Data and Geographic Information Systems to Identify Economic Opportunities in Small Cities. [uwex.edu] University of Wisconsin-Extension
  4. Engaging Small Businesses in Rural Economic Development: Seven Guidelines for Success. [missouri.edu] A. Hause and M. Rahe. University of Missouri Extension. 2019.
Articles about Downtown Revitalization
  1. Rebuilding Main Street in Rural America: How to Engage Support, Find Funding and Build a Stronger Community. [mainstreet.org] Wendy Van Duyne. Main Street America. 2019.
  2. Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities. [epa.gov] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  3. Why Main Streets are a Key Driver of Equitable Economic Recovery in Rural America. [brookings.edu] The Brookings Institution. 2020.
  4. Downtown Revitalization in Lost Nation, Iowa Best Practices & Recommendations. [uiowa.edu, PDF, 936 KB] L. Engle, J. Gill, M. Pryor, and D. Wagner. University of Iowa. 2016
  5. Working Together: A Guide to Collaboration in Rural Revitalization. [ces.ncsu.edu] A. Savage, S. Brune, M. Hovis, S.E. Spencer, M. Dinan, and E. Seekamp. NCSU Extension. 2018.
  6. A Rural Service Provider's Guide to Immigrant Entrepreneurship. [uni.edu, PDF, 6.9 MB] University of Northern Iowa, RBC/ SBDC, Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration. 2006
  7. Creative Uses for Downtown Buildings in Small Towns - A Sample of Ideas to Bring People Back Downtown. [wisc.edu, PDF, 2 MB] B. Ryan, E. Lutz, and M. Kono with E. Welty. University of Wisconsin Extension. 2017.
  8. Small Business Perspectives on the Role of Rural Libraries in Economic Development. [uchicago.edu] B. Mehra, B.W. Bishop, and R. Partee II. The Library Quarterly 87(1). 2017.
Practices and Model Programs
  1. Brownfield Grant Recipient Success Stories. Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. Heritage Travel - Legacy Itineraries. National Park Service.
  3. Extension-Led Economic Development Model - A Recipe for Success. Journal of Extension, Vol. 51(2):2. 2013.
  4. Vibrant Rural Communities: Case Studies. NADO Research Foundation, Brett Schwartz. 2012.
Journals of Interest
Organizations
  • American Planning Association. Chicago, IL. A non-profit, public interest group that focuses on research, policy, education and information dissemination for practicing planners, officials, and citizens involved with urban and rural planning issues. Also has the Small Towns and Rural Planning Division with specific small town focus.
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Washington. The professional and educational organization representing appointed managers and administrators in local governments. Services include: annual conference; publications; research; and special focused initiatives that include Brownfields, sustainable communities, Intelligent transportation systems, performance measurement, military base reuse smart growth and best practices symposium are just some of the many programs.
  • International Downtown Association. Washington, DC. Dedicated to the revitalization of downtown areas and their adjacent neighborhoods. Focuses its programs on effective management of downtowns, including retailing, security, maintenance, physical design, business development, transportation, culture and entertainment.
  • National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT). Washington, DC. Provides technical assistance, educational services, and public policy support to local government officials of small communities across the country. Conducts research and develops public policy recommendations to help improve the quality of life in small communities.
  • Main Street America. Washington, DC. Assists states, communities and citizens in the revitalization of business districts within a preservation context. Provides information and consultation on downtown revitalization, through technical assistance, the National Main Street Network, conferences, products and Main Street Certification Institute.

Funding Sources for Economic Development Efforts

Federal and other programs and technical assistance

For additional sources consult A Guide to Funding Resources [nal.usda.gov].

Appalachian Regional Commission
U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Commerce
  • Economic Development Administration provides assistance to rural communities through a variety of programs including the Public Works and Economic Development Facilities Program.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development (IEED) 
  • Working with Communities. The National Park Service provides many technical and funding assistance programs to State Historic Preservation Offices and communities for local projects.
  • Preserve America Communities. Designation program that recognizes communities that protect and celebrate their heritage; use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs.
U.S. Department of Transportation
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Brownfields and Land Revitalization "Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands." 
  • Brownfields Federal Programs Guide 2021 Edition. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 
Non-federal Funding Resources

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