Main Street Now Rewind: Rebuilding to Healing - A Framework for the Future of Main Street


May 19, 2021 | Main Street Now Rewind: Rebuilding to Healing – A Framework for the Future of Main Street | 


Photo credit: The Milk District in Orlando, Florida

This blog is part of our 2021 Main Street Now Rewind series, spotlighting just some of the many impactful dialogues and key conversations hosted throughout the conference. As a reminder, you can watch any sessions you missed or rewatch your favorites by logging into the conference platform. These recordings will be available until March 1, 2022.

Unable to attend the conference? We reopened registration so that anyone who couldn’t attend still has the chance to view the sessions. Access all of the energizing and rich conference content, including resources and recaps of chats from select sessions through March 1, 2022. Register here.

Rebuilding to Healing – A Framework for the Future of Main Street

The events of the past year – from COVID-19 to the national reckoning around racial justice to cascading climate crises – have resulted in enormous disruption in our daily lives, as well as our local economies. As we look to recovery, we are confronted with a series of critical decisions about what the future will look like for our Main Street districts. In this Main Idea General Session, we were joined by three experts to provide key insights on how to build our Main Streets back with authenticity, sustainability, and equity at the heart of our efforts.

In her opening presentation, Amy Liu, Vice President & Director at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, explored what it means to “rebuild better.” She dove into four structural trends for Main Street leaders to consider as they do the work of equity-focused growth:

  1. The knowledge economy demands density. This structural trend indicates that both the knowledge and digital economies still favor places with a dense concentration of jobs. From this, Liu posited that cities, downtowns, and commercial corridors will survive and thrive despite the impacts of the pandemic.
  2. Proximity can benefit the office and commercial market. This trend underscores the demand for retail, food, and arts districts driven by the density of neighborhood-level information sector, professional services, and management jobs. And with the rise of remote work, Liu argues we have an opportunity to redevelop an entire network of neighborhood commercial corridors for the future of knowledge work and human collaboration.
  3. The post-COVID community should work for all workers. In keeping this trend front of mind, Main Street leaders are reminded that not all employees have the luxury of working from home. To this end, it is essential that employment centers be connected by transit and offer shorter routes.
  4. Black communities have not benefited from the demand for density. Black-owned small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. And this disproportionate impact has only compounded the negative impacts of retailers historically overlooking Black neighborhoods.
After exploring these four key trends, Liu concluded with optimism for the future of Main Streets, reemphasizing the market demand for a future in which dense job centers and opportunity-rich communities benefit all residents.

Following Liu, Fay Horwitt, President of Forward Cities, presented on how to successfully build an equitable environment in which entrepreneurs can thrive. She explored this topic first by detailing the three key ingredients needed to create a strong network: the entrepreneurs, the “equippers” (those that provide entrepreneurs support, education, and resources), and ecosystems. Notably, ecosystems are where barriers that disrupt the equitable flow between the three components occur. Horwitt emphasized that Main Street leaders need to be able to recognize those barriers in order to catalyze systems change. Some of the forms of blockages Horwitt highlighted include:

The 2020 Triple Threat. For Horwitt, this triple threat included the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing awareness of racial injustices, and the political unrest (with particular emphasis on the insurrection at the nation’s capital on January 6, 2021)—all of which results in economic uncertainty.

A History of Trauma. Horwitt explored the multi-layered, multifaceted traumas that we are all experiencing: historical trauma, complex trauma, chronic trauma, and national trauma. Understanding the impact of these experiences, Main Street leaders are urged to take a trauma-informed approach to rebuilding. This approach requires local leaders to: realize the widespread impact of the trauma as well as paths for recovery; recognize the signs of trauma in clients, staff, and others in the system; respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies and practices; and actively seeking to resist re-traumatization.

Using this framework, Horwitt encouraged Main Streeters to triage small businesses and their needed support. She explored Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, emphasizing the process for entrepreneurs to reach—and sustain—self-actualization. Horwitt concluded her presentation calling for communities to see the whole of an entrepreneur, rather than just a business that is open or closed. By taking care of the whole entrepreneur, commercial districts can create a more equitable, human-centered small business ecosystem.

Listen to the whole of this inspiring conversation between Brookings' Amy Liu, Forward Cities’ Fay Horwitt, and U.S. Bank’s Marcus BrownView the transcript here.


View this session on the conference platform here.

Additional Resources

Resources Shared by Speakers

Ideas and Resources Shared in the Chat by Participants

  • Karen Appelgren: See the website and search by zip code to see what locales have community investment trusts set up.
  • Zac Alfson: An example of community REIT.
  • Laura Burns: Visit National Trust Community Investment Corporation to learn about New Markets Tax Credits which require developers to meet community impact goals, which could include flexible lease rates for commercial properties. Also, please take our survey.

Eager to learn more about this topic?
Check out the recordings of these related sessions at the Main Street Now Online Conference:


Panel Speakers

Amy Liu,
Vice President & Director, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program

Amy Liu is Vice President and Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and the Adeline M. and Alfred I. Johnson Chair in Urban and Metropolitan Policy. Liu is a national expert on cities and metropolitan areas, is adept at translating research and insights into action on the ground, and excels at linking local experiences to federal policymaking. As Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, which Liu co-founded in 1996, she pioneered the program’s signature approach to state and local engagements, which uses rigorous research to inform strategies for economic growth and opportunity.

Fay Horwitt,
President, Forward Cities

Fay Howitt serves as the President of Forward Cities, where she oversees organizational strategy and serves as the executive lead of the ESHIP Communities initiative. In addition, Fay is a dedicated advocate for the emerging profession of ecosystem building, and as a founding member of Ecosystems Unite. Beyond her formal roles, she is a sought-after presenter, trainer, and thought leader on the topic of equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem building. Never one to be content with status quo, Fay has also recently begun addressing a new need in local communities: ecosystem healing–helping pivot ecosystems and institutions in this time of the dual COVID-19 and systemic racial injustice pandemics.

Marcus Brown,
Assistant Vice President | Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Strategy Manager, U.S. Bank

Marcus Brown currently serves as Assistant Vice President of U.S. Bank’s DEI Strategy team. In this role he sets the strategy for both the Black and LGBTQ+ employee segments and their respective business resource groups across the country. Prior to this role, he served as the Training and Development Program Manager for U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. In this role, he oversaw the development, delivery, and evaluation of DEI programs, leadership training, manager and team engagement, and business line trainings. Before joining U.S. Bank, Marcus held positions at Missouri Jobs with Justice and the Deaconess Foundation working on systems-level change for socioeconomic justice, child well-being and improved health outcomes within the St. Louis metropolitan area.


View more sessions from the 2021 Main Street Now Conference by logging into the conference platform.