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Rediscovering Mainstreet USA: The Social Fabric That Binds Us

todays talk about mainstreet redevelopments is more than just wishful thinking by "PollyAnna-ish" designers or city officials. Mainstreet USA is sweeping the country and is not just another passing fad or trend. It's a ground swell coming from the bottom up and it's happening at lighting speed.

The idea of recreating mainstreet into livable communities is as prevalent in small townships as it is in the country's major metros. It is almost as if all city officials banded together one night and came up with the same idea. They are not talking about trying to get the next big box retailer or the next hot theme restaurant. Mainstreet USA, or "New Urbanism," is really about creating livable environments that are safe, workable, socially-friendly, entertaining, 24-hour hubs of activities where families and business can meet together. It's a cross between Mayberry and the Jetson's. The new mainstreet plan can be hip and edgy as well as safe and serene, or both!

Actually mainstreet redevelopment is not all that new. Many cities have been carefully working on their plans for years but now the commitment from city officials is far greater than in recent history. This renewed commitment is forged by a strong economy, the successful integration of entertainment and real estate, the rising number of home-office workers, a growing number of residential urban dwellers and the need to do something with vacant and run down mainstreets.

With the recent success in entertainment real estate projects around the country, city politicians are standing behind these projects with little objection from voters. However, entertainment alone is not enough. It is just one of the keys - retail, residential, effective workplaces and of course, parking are also critical mixes to success.

Mastermind of the urban revitalization, David Cordish, president of the Cordish Companies and recipient of our EDDI Award for Outstanding Leadership for Entertainment Development & Design Innovation, states, " the single most important element to a successful downtown revitalization program is a favorable political environment." Cordish explains that due to the complexities of these projects; multiple owners, infrastructure improvements, financing and mixed-used tenants needs, the city politicians and community must be absolutely committed to seeing these projects through the entire process otherwise they simply will not happen.

Adding fuel to America's rediscovery of mainstreet are national big-box retailers such as Sears, Federated and J.C. Penny's who continue to close their less profitable stores generally located in mainstreets around the country. In turn, they are creating an equal reaction to replace these spaces left vacant. It tears at the morale fiber of a community to be at the mercy of the impersonal decisions made by vacating retailers. With today's mainstreet revolution, control is put back into the hands of the local community.

Case in point - recently New Orleans city council unanimously approved a regulation that will control the design of "large box retailers" that lack human scale. Some of the new regulations require extensive landscaping, pedestrian amenities, signage restriction and the prohibition of "long blank walls." While New Orleans may be an extreme example, other communities have similar regulations. This provides us with evidence of the growing concern of local communities to preserve their mainstreets and "sense of place."

Without a doubt the rediscovery of mainstreet USA is taking place! It provides huge opportunities for those ready to pick up the proverbial broom and sweep up America's mainstreets. Difficult as they may be to do, the rewards can be great. Communities and their residents are seeking these special places; a place they want to call home. A social place that binds us as a community or simply, mainstreet.

* The Cordish Companies, Baltimore

* Federal Realty Investment Trust, Rockville, M.D.

* Forest City Enterprise, Los Angeles

* Madisen Marquette Partners, Cincinnati

* McCaffrey Interests, Chicago

* National Trust for Historic Preservation/Mainstreet Center, Washington D.C.

* Performa Entertainment Real Estate, Memphis, Tenn.

* Starwood Urban Investments, Washington D.C.

* Steiner + Associates, Columbus, Ohio

* Street-Works, Alexandria, VA

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