Small businesses thrive in them, entrepreneurs grow in them, and tourists flock to them. They create a sense of place and arrival.  They are the central hub of a community and the economic engine for a region. A growing, vibrant downtown usually means a healthy, strong community.  That’s why a downtown core is often the heart of any city and often a lasting impression on a visitor. It is the downtown that causes people to stop and spend money or keep on driving to another town. It’s where people first say to themselves, “I could live and work here.” 

Often referred to as city centers or central business districts, downtowns are experiencing a resurgence, especially in rural areas. No longer are downtowns places where only locals go to eat or receive a service. They are becoming unique gathering places for art and culture, fine dining, relaxation and new residences. They are walkable, livable, job-creating places that provide a compelling experience. They are, in short, the lifeblood of a healthy, thriving community.



United States Department of Agriculture provides a guide that links to full-text handbooks, planning tools, case studies, funding resources, organizations, revitalization strategies, and more to assist a community considering a downtown revitalization project.

Main Street America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that began in  1980  has created a  new web site that includes a digital library featuring the most popular Main Street and downtown educational publications, including comprehensive Main Street Approach guidesmember handbooks and State of Main

The Main Street America Institute is comprised of a comprehensive set of online courses and in-person workshops that provides participants with tools and skills needed to effectively lead the art and science of downtown revitalization efforts.

Complete Streets is an approach used to provide a transportation network that addresses the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.  It emphasizes regular consideration for different transportation modes into everyday transportation planning, design and operation decisions.

Project for Public Spaces is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. Our pioneering Placemaking approach helps citizens transform their public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs.

The Preservation Green Lab connects old buildings with new ideas. The Green Lab conducts research, delivers tools, promotes policies, and convenes partners to deliver a new kind of economic development leveraging existing buildings and underutilized spaces.

Smart Growths America ReBuilding Downtown technical assistance helps your community get ready for walkable development quickly and efficiently. We help local public officials identify the necessary strategies, including improving regulations for land use, establishing clear public investment practices, and reforming administrative processes

Better Block Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that educates, equips, and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods.

The Institute for Self Reliance’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.


Winning Grants, Step by Step – Downtown Development Center

Parking Reform Made Easy – Richard Wilson

For the Love of Cities by Peter Kageyama

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

The Past and Future City – Stephanie Meeks

Shop Local Campaigns for Small Towns – Becky McCray


Funding Sources for Downtown Organizations

The Toolkit for Business Districts to Work with Local Artists – International Downtown Association

State Of Main Street Annual Report 2016

ReBuilding Downtown: A Guidebook for Revitalization by Smart Growth America

The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse by Preservation Green Lab

Welcome Back to Downtown: A Guide to Revitalizing Pennsylvania’s Small Downtowns by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Bringing Back Main Street: A guide to Downtown Revitalization for Local Governments by the Houston-Galveston Area Local Development Corporation


Why Walkable Streets Are More Economically Productive

The Hard Truths of Trying to Save the Rural Economy

The Parking Problem That Wasn’t

What Does A Walkable Street Look Like

10 Questions to Ask Someone Running for Local Office

Laundromat Anchors a Small Town

15 Awesome Movies about Preservation

Creative Place Making Toolkit for Business Districts

The Town that Beat WalMart is Back on the Map

How One Massachusetts Downtown Bounced Back

A Healthy Downtown is a Key to A Strong Community

20 Ingredients of an Outstanding Downtown  – Roger Brooks

Adaptive Reuse Should be the Default

Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks Influences Urban Vitality

What Makes a Good Main Street Work

Five Keys to Downtown Success

Downtown Revitalization: Cities Search for Solutions

12 strategies that will transform your city’s downtown

10 Small Cities with Urban Amenities That Most Big Cities Lack





Tour of Empty Buildings was started in Webster City, Iowa where they held a tour of empty buildings and changed the way small towns are filling vacant buildings! Read how they did it, and how they used the 7 Principles for Building Possibility.

Wikiblock,is an open-source toolkit of designs for benches, chairs, planters, stages, beer garden fences, and kiosks that can be downloaded for free.

Building Healthy Place Toolkit: Strategies for Enhancing Health in the Built Environment outlines evidence-supported opportunities to enhance health through changes in approaches to buildings and projects

The Center for Community Progress, founded in 2010, is a national nonprofit specifically dedicated to building a future in which vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties no longer exist. In all of their work, they seek to ensure that all communities have the policies, tools, and resources they need to support the effective, equitable reuse of vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties

Smart Growth America is about helping every town and city become a more economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable place to live. This approach looks different for every community, but can help neighborhoods of any kind flourish, make towns and cities competitive in a 21st century economy, and improve lives by improving neighborhoods

Destination Development Association is an organization that provides an array of resources for everyone charged with making the place they call home better. DDA membership includes dozens of “how-to” videos, handouts, sample ordinance, photographic example books, webinars, weekly video blogs, and more. Topics include place branding, downtown development & revitalization, tourism product development, economic development, and all-things marketing.

Over the past 35 years, the National Main Street Center has led the development of a national network of over 2,000 historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts: Main Street America™. The people who make up Main Street America are passionate advocates, dedicated volunteers, influential stakeholders, and community organizers who work every day to turn the tide in their communities—catalyzing reinvestment, creating jobs, and fostering pride of place.

The Washington State Main Street Program has been helping communities revitalize the economy, appearance, and image of their downtown commercial districts using the successful Main Street Approach®. Washington’s designated Main Street Communities track and report important metrics throughout the year to measure the impact of the Main Street Approach in communities throughout the state.

The International Downtown Association is a world leader and champion for vital and livable urban centers. Through its network of diverse practitioners, its rich body of knowledge, and its unique capacity to nurture community-building partnerships, IDA provides tools, intelligence and strategies for creating healthy and dynamic centers that anchor the well-being of towns, cities and regions of the world.

These grants are offered throughout the year. Please check their web site for applications and deadlines

Funding from the National Trust is awarded to nonprofit organizations and public agencies, and the majority of our funding is awarded for planning and education projects through our National Trust Preservation Funds grant program. Grants from the National Trust Preservation Funds encourage preservation at the local level by providing seed money for preservation projects

Grants from the Hart Family Fund for Small Towns are intended to encourage preservation at the local level by providing seed money for preservation projects in small towns. These grants help stimulate public discussion, enable local groups to gain the technical expertise needed for particular projects, introduce the public to preservation concepts and techniques, and encourage financial participation by the private sector.

John Favrot for Historic Preservation aims to save historic environments in order to foster an appreciation of our nation’s diverse cultural heritage and to preserve and revitalize the livability of the nation’s communities.

The Peter H. Brink Leadership Fund helps build the capacity of existing nonprofit preservation organizations and encourages collaboration among these organizations by providing grants for mentoring and other peer-to-peer and direct organizational development and learning opportunities. The purpose of these grants is to support the leadership and effectiveness of staff and board members of preservation organizations to fulfill their mission and to create a stronger, more effective preservation movement.

Our Town, a grant program through the National Endowment of the Arts, offers support for projects in two areas: Arts Engagement, Cultural Planning, and Design Projects that represent the distinct character and quality of their communities and projects that Build Knowledge About Creative Placemaking:

Art Works, a grant program through the National Endowment of the Arts provides support for the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts. Matching grants generally range from $10,000 to $100,000. A minimum cost share/match equal to the grant amount is required.

The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program administered by the National Park Service in conjunction with State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO), offers a 20% federal tax credit for qualified rehabilitation expenses. Thousands of property owners across the country have already utilized these tax incentives to rehabilitate historic commercial buildings and similar properties.

Transportation for America, through its Cultural Corridor Grant is seeking to award $50,000 (each) to creative place making projects in three new cities that engage residents, attract the attention of local public works and transportation agencies, and spark new conversations that bring more people to the table to plan and implement new transportation investments. We are especially committed to funding collaborative projects that expand transportation opportunities and local control for low-income people, recent immigrants, and people of color living in communities that have experienced disproportionate disinvestment and disconnection.

The “Funding Resources” section of A Guide to Funding Sources and Resources includes links to searchable databases offering funding opportunities from government and/or private sources that are available to local governments, community organizations, and individuals. It provides web links to full-text online guides and tips to assist grant writers prepare successful proposals.