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Main Spotlight: New Tool for Understanding Demographics of Main Street Communities

October 28, 2020 | Main Spotlight: New Tool for Understanding Demographics of Main Street Communities | By: Michael Powe, Ph.D., Director of Research, NMSC, and Brittanii' Batts, Associate Manager of Projects and Research, NMSC | 

On October 15th, Main Street staff were joined by Dr. Christina Gomez for a webinar on “Demographics, Data, and Diversity.” Dr. Gomez shared her expertise related to topics of identity formation and demographic categorization and talked with us about the ways U.S. census data represents information about the race and ethnicity characteristics of the American population. At the end of the webinar, Norma Miess shared some thoughts on why demographic information is important for Main Street staff to understand and keep in mind. You can view the webinar here.

As people who enjoy working with a variety of data to understand the changing world around us, we were excited to mine the U.S. Census Bureau for insights about the demographics of Main Street communities. To that end, we have assembled a new interactive mapping tool where you can learn about the race, ethnicity, age, income, and educational attainment characteristics of any 2020 Accredited or Affiliate Main Street program.

New Mapping Tool

Please note: This map remains a work in progress and will be updated with additional data and improved functionality. At present, some of the information can be challenging to read while in the map interface. Please feel free to copy and paste the information from the map pop-up into Word or Excel if you’d like a better look. Or, you can open the map full screen by clicking here.

The map shows all 1,200+ Main Street programs that had Accredited or Affiliate status in 2020. When you click on an Accredited (shown in blue) or Affiliate program (shown in green), you are presented with information about the latest demographic information and recent demographic trends, along with data about the surrounding metropolitan, micropolitan, or rural areas; the state in which the program operates; and the nation as a whole.

As you review your community’s data, you might consider asking the following questions:
  • Does your Main Street program’s board and staff reflect the demographics of your community as a whole?
  • Do the people who attend your Main Street events represent the full demographic diversity of your community and its broader region?
  • Do your Main Street businesses serve the full spectrum of folks who live in the community and the region?
  • How does your community compare to the demographics of your state and the nation?
The data underlying this mapping tool is not only useful to better understand your community but can also be leveraged to understand broader patterns and geographic trends across the network. For instance, we were curious to know the extent to which the demographics of communities across the network were reflective of the diversity of the U.S. as a whole. When the data from the 1,168 cities and towns with Main Street programs are combined, the racial and ethnic diversity of those places mirror the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. to a staggering degree.

There is a near-identical match in the proportions of the populations represented by Hispanic or Latino residents, Asian residents, American Indian or Alaska Native residents, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander residents, residents of two or more races, and residents of other unlisted racial groups. The only major differences between Main Street communities and the U.S. as a whole come from the proportions of non-Hispanic or Latino White residents, who represent 53 percent of residents in Main Street communities compared to 61 percent of the U.S. population, and non-Hispanic or Latino Black or African American residents, who represent 21 percent of Main Street community residents and 12 percent of the U.S. population.


Finally, it’s fascinating to see how Main Street communities vary by race and ethnicity throughout the U.S. In the map below, the 1,246 Main Street programs for 2020 are color coded based on the majority racial or ethnic group in their surrounding communities. In much of the Midwest, Great Plains, Mountain West, and Appalachian U.S., non-Hispanic or Latino White residents represent the majority of Main Street communities. In the Southern U.S. and the Mid-Atlantic, there are many majority non-Hispanic or Latino Black or African American communities and communities with no majority racial or ethnic group. In Texas, New Mexico, and California, meanwhile, there are a mix of majority non-Hispanic or Latino White communities, majority Hispanic or Latino communities, communities without a majority group, and communities with an American Indian or Alaska Native or Asian majority. You can also regularly pick out programs in and around major cities by looking for bright pink dots, which indicate the racial and ethnic heterogeneity associated with not having a majority racial or ethnic group.

There is so much more that we can understand with data like this, and future blog posts will leverage this information in other ways. What more would you like to see mapped with Main Streets? What additional functionality would you like to see from this map or another map like it? And how does this data strike you—what thoughts or questions does it prompt for you? We hope you will join a conversation about this mapping tool and this data on The Point.

Meet the Authors

Michael Powe, Ph.D., Director of Research: As the Director of Research, Mike develops research projects that demonstrate the power and potential of Main Street communities. This includes work managing research partnerships, steering research efforts from design through execution, and gathering and analyzing data related to the performance of Main Streets across the country.

Read Mike's full bio.

Brittanii' Batts, Associate Manager of Projects and Research: As Associate Manager of Projects and Research, Brittanii’ serves as a liaison with potential awardees and potential borrowers. She implements grant reporting schedules, tracks loan repayments, and reviews loan applications and their processes. Working collaboratively with the team, Brittanii’ vets potential revitalization related projects and tracks improvement in loan agreements. Working closely with the Vice President of Revitalization Programs, Brittanii’ is helping to expand NMSC’s research objectives using GIS data analysis and visualization.

Read Tanii's full bio.