The Fabric of Community

One of the metaphors I find the most helpful is the concept of community being a fabric. A fabric is made up of threads and the strength of that fabric is dependent on the amount of those threads and how they are woven together. A community fabric is made up of personal interactions and the strength of that fabric is dependent on the amount of interactions and how they are woven together. As people move about their community on foot, they encounter one another face to face and bonds are forged.

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Amber Davidson
Setting the Standards

All this is to say, dear community leaders, be very careful in letting your standards decline. Standards, like a retaining wall, are up against constant pressure. There are always forces at work to see them fall, yet it takes a constant commitment and effort to ensure they remain. They must be bolstered at times to continue to be effective. Once allowed to fall, the prospect of restoring them is exponentially harder than the act of maintaining them. Standards matter. 

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Amber Davidson
Own Your Issues

Revitalization is a simple enough proposition. The buildings that make up a downtown must be economically productive. Economically productive = buildings in good shape, and occupied by successful commercial tenants. This is it. This is the ultimate goal of any revitalization effort and if this is accomplished, you’ve succeeded. Any initiative that works towards this end is positive and any initiative that doesn’t impact this area is unproductive and needs reconsidered. Reason being, at the end of the day, a downtown must be economically viable, which means the buildings must be economically viable. What is downtown after-all, but an area of public space defined on its edges by buildings. The public space can and should be highly inviting, attractive and walkable, but will never be the true draw of its own. This space must be encompassed by attractive, productive buildings. It is the buildings people use and visit. A healthy commercial district might be full of beautiful civic buildings and have perfect sidewalks and lush hanging baskets, but unless it is also composed of privately owned buildings and businesses, it will never function properly. 

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Amber Davidson
The (Bike) Path Forward

Like most, I really didn’t have any appreciation for one of the world’s greatest inventions. I assumed bikes were only for children, drunk drivers and men with a lycra fetish. When I ran the Ohio Main Street program, I was tasked with putting together a regular schedule of workshops. One of these workshops was on the topic of making cities more bike friendly and Greenville, Ohio was the host city. In an effort to gain some first hand experience on this topic, we, as staff at Heritage Ohio, decided we would make our way there by bike.

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Amber Davidson
Something's Missing

It’s not too late, but every day we wait to address these issues, they grow more difficult. Ask yourself, who is responsible for making your community a better place to live? If you don't have an answer, you have a major problem. This is not a function that any city can continue to ignore. The issue of livability isn’t going anywhere either. People are more mobile than ever and are increasingly not tethered to their work. Those with means and ability are continuously leaving the towns that need them the most and migrating towards cities that can offer them the quality of life they want. This trend is having devastating consequences.

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Amber Davidson
It's Not the Red Tape, Stupid

Another town and another enlightening conversation with an elected official. Over a cup of coffee, this particular mayor was filling me in on his city's strategy to rebuild their economy. He explained how they were assembling a parking task-force, creating a merchants organization, recruiting out of town businesses, building an industrial park and loosening building regulations. It was like he read my new book “5 Failed Strategies that Have Proven Ineffective at Growing Your Local Economy Time and Time Again” dropping this fall! 

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Amber Davidson
Save Our Buildings, Save Ourselves

A few years back, while hosting an event for the governor’s State of the State address in Marietta, Ohio, I had a chance to speak with a local councilwoman during the reception. To this day, I remain in awe of the ridiculous things people let pass their lips. This particular councilwoman explained to me that, “People in Marietta didn’t really care about preservation. It’s not something that matters to them.” I tried, albeit poorly, to disguise my disbelief, that an elected official would have such a poor understanding of her constituents.

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Amber Davidson
F*ck Apathy

Yeah, I know, the title seems a little “in your face.” Maybe an attempt to grab attention with the shock value of that word. But that’s not my angle here. I am happy to use the word fuck in every day conversation, I love the word and I don’t feel the need to save it for special occasions. Honestly, if there were a stronger word to use here - I would, but fuck will have to suffice. The reason being, that when it comes to apathy, I don’t believe it is effective to talk about it in half measures.

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Amber Davidson
Lessons Learned on Main Street

Revitalization never crossed my mind as any sort of career aspiration as a child, city planner didn’t quite have the same appeal as being the next Bo Jackson. The concept of where you lived and the role it played in your life was not something we talked about at the dinner table. We could ride our bikes to the neighbors or “Muck Lake” as we called it, but everything else required a car, including school. My childhood in Lima, Ohio seemed pretty groovy, so I assumed it was the same for most. When they let me out of school at 18,  I moved on down the road to central Ohio, yet college didn’t necessarily provide me with any different opinions on the matter of place either.  My school was in a nice Midwest town, that at the time had a struggling downtown, but it didn’t concern me much. Like most, the setting of my life, didn't really enter into my consciousness in terms of the role it played in shaping of my life. 

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Amber Davidson