Creating Downtown Vibrancy

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Mother Teresa

Recently we discussed the power of music and its ability to transform individuals and possibly, even communities. Shortly after writing that piece, I came across another piece about how music will impact the city of Claremore, OK.  Let me be the first to say, I am not beyond taking another idea and running with it, after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is; “He who steals from me runs the risk of stealing twice.” I believe there are very few new ideas out there; we all need to help each other when it comes to revitalizing our downtowns and communities.

This week, I am going to do something I rarely do and double down two weeks in a row on the idea of using music to assist in the transformation of a community. I will also share an affordable idea that is being used around the country.

On the higher end of the revitalizing spectrum, one can visit Branson, MO. and spend time at Branson Landing.  This new project has become a must visit option in a city that is already ripe with many viable tourist options.  Visitors will be soothed by music as they shop, dine and explore the area. The music is a part of the landscape and was built-in to the Branson Landing project at the very beginning.  On the downside, as great as that may be, being perfectly realistic, smaller communities without the pull of Branson would be hard pressed to duplicate that exact project due to the high cost.

That is what made the Claremore project so intriguing. They are installing an affordable downtown sound system to share music throughout there downtown as are other communities around the country.  The Claremore project is being spearheaded by the local Main Street organization and they have tackled it in an affordable and very doable way.  In fact, this might be called a grassroots project; it is being crowd-funded into reality.  It appears they are concentrating on a three-block area of their historic downtown area. They have approached the local business community to provide a matching opportunity for local citizens that donate towards the total project cost of $25,000 towards implementation of the project. Being that the Main Street organization is a non-profit, all donations are tax deductible as well.

I point this out to show that regardless of the size of the community, if there is a will, there can be a way.  Smaller and mid-sized communities need to do everything they can to differentiate their communities from the sea of sameness we all experience all to often.  Anything your community can do that sets you apart in a positive way will be money well spent.

So many communities around the country offer the same predictable shops, the same mundane dining options and basically the same entertainment options. The more you can turn those shopping, dining and entertainment options into unique experiences, the greater the odds of success for your community.  

We have written often, and will continue to write about the impact of the online and digital onslaught to our communities.  Make no mistake; smaller and mid-sized communities are in war for their economic survival. The sooner communities realize this, the sooner they can get on with the business of transformation.

Unique experiences are the one thing that can’t be duplicated online or digitally.  When asked, how will our communities survive? The answer is in our ability to transform our routines of the past into novel and unique experiences moving into the future.  Creating a sense of place and community in your town is the ultimate arrow in the quiver as we battle the digital age.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: