February 14, 2017

5 Tips To Create A Sustainable Downtown

Image of Downtown Chicago and El-Train

photo by: Zach Ellerbrook/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

Downtowns (especially with a mix of old and new buildings) help cities thrive.

Downtowns are the core of any city, large or small. Restaurants, businesses, parks, and community-centered events in downtowns help to establish a unique cultural center. While shopping malls and sprawl have sometimes drawn people away from downtowns, they remain an integral part of our communities.

Sustainable downtowns—i.e. downtowns that understand their community’s needs and have the resources to adapt when necessary—rely on community input, outside help, and a sense of future direction. Below, we’ve gathered five tips that will help you create a sustainable downtown in your area.

1. Create a good foundation.

Sustainability programs work best when they are community-led. Hold brainstorming sessions and town hall meetings. Early involvement will help identify initial needs and create excitement.

2. Determine what the community wants.

Identify community stakeholders. Think broadly—schools, neighborhood institutions, hospitals, farmers market managers and vendors, social services, ethnic media, libraries, arts organizations, etc. A broad coalition reinforces the community-wide imperative. Identify a project lead to manage the local effort.

3. Identify existing programs and incentives.

Many organizations such as utility companies and local governments offer sustainability programs with incentives or tips to better manage a sustainable downtown. Investigate available rebates from your utility company on equipment like lighting or HVAC. Look into programs like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), Rural Energy Assistance Program (REAP), and DSIRE. Also, check out our toolkit on creating a sustainable small business.

Brick facades of downtown stores in Guthrie Oklahoma

photo by: danzil raines/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The best downtowns involve the community, stakeholders, and businesses in major decisions.

4. Create a sustainability plan or vision.

Create a project wishlist. Ask questions such as, “what can we do in one year, or five years?” Identify long-term projects that support your community’s vision. Assign roles through working groups. Plan for mini-projects as well as long-term projects. Don’t forget to establish timelines and deadlines to maintain momentum.

5. Now implement your idea.

Plan a kick-off event to generate excitement around sustainability and to attract potential investment. For longer-term projects, set up clear goals. After the completion of each event, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and adjust accordingly.

Meghan White Headshot

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and a former assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

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