"The Future Belongs to Main Streets": Daily Debrief from Des Moines

Posted on: May 23rd, 2011 by Julia Rocchi

"The future belongs to Main Streets. Let's get ready for it."

Edward McMahon of Urban Land Institute delivered this rousing call to arms to the 1200+ crowd of devoted Main Streeters at this morning's Opening Plenary, and the day kept going up from there. Here are some of the preservation-related highlights and hits from this productive first day.

Opening Plenary


Live video by Ustream

According to Ed McMahon, strip centers and urban sprawl are becoming "retail for the last century." Shifting demographics, evolving technology, economic pressures, and new social mores are leading to greater focus on mixed-use development, city centers, and -- of course -- Main Streets.

McMahon shared a number of interesting concepts during his presentation. Some of my favorite quotes-slash-"new phrases to trot out at preservation dinner parties" include:

  • We're at a bright line moment in history. The sustainability revolution is the new industrial revolution.
  • Historic preservation & Main Street are at the heart of sustainability.
  • Sense of place makes our physical surroundings worth caring about.
  • The biggest development opportunity of the next 50 years will be converting dead strip commercial centers into walkable mixed use centers.
  • The 'placemaking dividend' is about creating a place where people want to stay, spend money, and come back.

Watch the full plenary recording and enjoy McMahon's energetic and hopeful outlook for the next era of placemaking.

Main Street flair in downtown Des Moines.

2011 State of Main Street Report

Main Street director Doug Loescher shared the the six key takeaways from the 2011 State of Main Street Report. Read Andrea Dono's overview, or check out the high-level synopsis:

  1. Main St. communities are holding steady. Despite lower investment, they enjoy good economic health.
  2. Mom & pop shops are still struggling. Business development helps bottom lines, but not necessarily job growth.
  3. A lot of the entrepreneurs are from out of town (and even pop up overnight).
  4. Think "Hot Green." Sustainability/smart growth/green issues continue to mature.
  5. Government funding changes/cuts are affecting Main Streets all around the country.
  6. The public has a growing interest in the Main Street cause, in large part due to higher visibility in news & communities.

2011 Great American Main Street Awards

Congratulations to our five Great American Main Street Award winners for 2011! Read Erica Stewart's introduction of the winning communities and their terrific work.

Session Notes

Stephanie Redman discusses Main Street PR at her afternoon session.

The conference social media brigade covered several sessions today. We won't repeat all our live tweets here, but we encourage you to check them out on our respective feeds. To wit:

  • "Grow Your Support by Telling Main Street's Story." Presenter: Stephanie Redman, ReSurge. (on @presconf)
  • "Public Participation That Does Your Project Good." Presenter: Della Rucker, AICP, CEcD, Wise Economy Workshop. (on @MainStreetsConf)
  • "Understanding Downtown Consumer Spending in the 'New Normal.'" Presenter: Tom Moriarty, The Eisen Group. (on @presconf)
  • "From Zero to Hero: A Main Street Manager's Story." Presenter: Kristina Trevarrow, Rochester Downtown Development Authority, Rochester, Mich. (on @MainStreetsConf)
  • Tour of Historic East Village. (field reports from Trust staffer @estewartdc)

If you're a Main Street in-person attendee who tweeted your session, please share your handle in the comments so others can take advantage of your diligence and brilliance!

Top Tweets & Posts

We enjoyed lively participation from the social media-verse, with a VIP mention going to Main Street staffer (and first-time tweeter @tomasmramirez) Tomas Ramirez for his excellent Exhibit Hall coverage.

Here's a sampling of our favorite comments:

@PresConf: McMahon: Tear up parking lots, rebuild paradise. Turn NIMBYs into YIMBYs. A parking lot is a terrible thing to waste.

@natalieburg: Wow. The fact that there are now 400 vacant Wal-Mart stores in the US just got a hilariously large uproar of applause.

@DSP_PresNation: Recommended reading: The Great Reset. It answers how the crash will reshape America. // by Richard Florida (Fun aside: Richard Florida himself retweeted and said thanks for this one!)

The Michigan delegation struts its stuff with "cow"-boy hats and cowbells.

@LaFeinman: 88% of young adults would choose neighborhood over size of house. "That's revolutionary" #edmcmahon

Robin Wasielewski Brekke:  As a past attendee of several NMSCs, it's been great to join virtually when I couldn't be there in person. It's nice seeing familiar faces and keeping up with conference/event happenings.

Closing Thought ...

Valecia Crisafulli, the National Trust's Senior Director of Partnerships, put it this way at the plenary: "They don't tell you in the brochure how addictive this conference is!" And now I see why.

Main Street attendees have tremendous energy and enthusiasm. They personify team spirit with their sincere support for other programs and the movement as a whole. I feel privileged to help deliver this spirit out over the interwebz, and hope you can all come experience it in person one day!

Julia Rocchi is representing the National Trust's Digital + New Media Team at the Main Streets Conference. She is grateful to Tweetchat for supplying hashtags and to Iowa for supplying pie.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

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