Partnering for Sustainable Communities

In the long march toward national recognition for our movement, I am happy to report that the “Main Street brand” is more visible than ever with key players in the national arena including, believe it or not, the federal government. 

SmartGrowthCover2This month, the International City/County Management Association published a new book, Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities.  Beyond its long title, this guide offers some quick recommendations that form a holistic three-part strategy.  One of their top strategies?  Historic Preservation and the Main Street Approach® in places like El Dorado, Arkansas.  (Click here to download a free online copy).

About the same time, the mayor of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, received a letter of congratulations – from the National League of Cities, which represents more than 1,600 cities and towns – for its recent Great American Main Street Award® designation. 

And recently, representatives of three federal agencies – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) – convened here in Washington, D.C., to consider the first year of progress for their new “Sustainable Communities” collaboration, an unprecedented agreement to coordinate federal housing, transportation, and environmental programs. And what, exactly, have they learned? “Fix It First” should drive all funding decisions, and downtowns are at the center of that philosophy.


Six Principles for Sustainable Communities

  • Provide more transportation choices.
  • Promote equitable, affordable housing.
  • Enhance economic competitiveness.
  • Support existing communities.
  • Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment.
  • Value communities and neighborhoods.

These three agencies are not alone.  In a recent meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), they commented to me that while USDA and other agencies are well suited for project development (through grant funding), they do not have the strength “on the ground” to produce long-term results and manage community development. That’s why they are turning to Main Street programs in many states to find creative community development strategies - from building food hubs in Wyoming to planning sustainable streetscapes in Iowa.

These are small victories for our movement, from a time when we were invisible at best or irrelevant at worst.  But collectively, these small steps toward visibility are giving Main Street a significant, permanent “place at the table” within the larger community development field, where sustainability and livability can all be accomplished in one place.