Downtown Planning for Smaller and Midsized Communities

By Philip Walker, AICP

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"For so long we were floundering and taking ad hoc measures, but the minute I understood what a downtown plan really was I said 'We need one of those!' As it turned out, it was the most fantastic vehicle I've ever seen," said Susan Moffat-Thomas of New Bern, North Carolina. Her hometown got a much-needed shot in the arm from a good downtown plan. Does yours need a similar ...

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Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
May 1, 2009
APA Planners Press

About the Authors

Philip Walker
Phil Walker has over twenty-five years of experience in community planning. His public sector experience consists of serving as the Executive Director of the Pensacola (Florida) Downtown Improvement Board and City Planning Director for Natchez, Mississippi. Most recently, he served as the part-time Interim Director of the Two Rivers Company - Clarksville, Tennessee’s new downtown and riverfront revitalization entity - between 2011 and 2013. Phil’s private sector experience includes Associate positions with Hintz-Nelessen Associates in Princeton, New Jersey, and Christopher Chadbourne and Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also had his own firm, Community Planning & Research, Inc., based in Nashville, between 1995 and 1998. In 1998, he sold that practice to Looney Ricks Kiss Architects (LRK) and then served as the Director of Planning for their Nashville office for four years. Since establishing The Walker Collaborative in 2002, he has led planning projects that have won awards from the state chapters of the American Planning Association in Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Alabama. Phil Walker has consulted to the National Main Street Center and numerous local Main Street programs, and he is a frequent speaker at national and regional planning conferences. He is also an occasional Instructor with the University of North Alabama’s continuing education progress where he teaches courses to professional planners and planning officials. His book entitled Downtown Planning for Smaller and Midsized Communities was published by the American Planning Association’s Planners Press in 2009, and he is a reviewer of manuscripts for the Journal of Planning Literature. Phil has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) since 1989, and he is trained and certified to manage public charrettes by the National Charrette Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Historic Preservation from Middle Tennessee State University, a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida, and a master’s degree in Real Estate Development from Harvard University. .

Table of Contents

What Is a Downtown?
Mixed Land Uses
What Is a Downtown Plan?
Previous Work on the Subject
Intended Audience
Research Basis
How to Apply This Book
The Bigger Picture

Chapter 1. The Groundwork Before Planning
What Prompts a Plan?
Keeping Planning in Perspective
Selling the Need for a Plan

Chapter 2. The Process of Preparing a Downtown Plan
Diagnostic Phase: Research and Analysis
The Big Ideas: Creating the Concept Plan
Rolling Up Your Sleeves: Draft Plan Preparation
Finalizing the Plan
What Happens After the Planning?

Chapter 3. The Physical Plan
Land Uses: Mix Them Up
Blocks, Lots, Streets, and Alleys
Making Your Downtown Pedestrian Friendly
Loading Areas
Transportation Alternatives
Public Spaces, Art, and Interpretation
Infrastructure and Utilities
Harnessing Mother Nature

Chapter 4. The Economic and Marketing Plan
Understanding the Market
Identity Development
Centralized Retail Management
Business Development
Marketing and Promotion
Social Issues

Chapter 5. Implementation Strategy
Organizational Structure
Public Policy
Funding and Financing
Priorities, Assignments, and Phasing

Chapter 6. Conclusions: What Is Really Important?
Public Involvement
A Clear Vision
Respect for the Past
Urban Form
Reasons to Be Downtown
Incremental and Comprehensive Implementation
Plan Flexibility and Continuity
Final Thought


Study Questions


"Vibrant, attractive, user-friendly downtowns don't just happen. They are the product of vision, dedicated leadership, effective partnerships and, as Philip L. Walker points out, good planning. This useful guide addresses a wide range of design issues, from one-way streets and infill architecture to show-window displays and public art, and offers a common-sense overview-seasoned with insightful first-hand reports from downtown veterans-of how the local planning process should work. The result is a roadmap that can help communities get the kind of downtown that everyone needs and wants — and deserves."

—Richard Moe
President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

"A comprehensive guide for planning small- and medium-size downtowns, this book is a must for today's planners, local leaders, and students of the field."

—Eugenie L. Birch, FAICP
Professor of Urban Research and Education, University of Pennsylvania

"To make this a century of wise environmental stewardship (rather than one of more sprawl and urban disinvestment) will require us to take much better care of the places we've already made. If you care about the center of your town, and wish to make it better, you must keep a copy of Downtown Planning for Smaller and Midsized Communities nearby and at the ready."

—Alex Krieger
Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design

"The sustained success stories in downtown revitalization have a set of common denominators: incremental change, participatory process, comprehensive management, effective use of historic buildings, and a handful of others. Phil Walker has done an excellent job of laying out the steps, the ingredients, and the "whys" as well as the "hows." This is an excellent guidebook for the interested citizen as well as the professional planner."

—Donovan Rypkema Principal, PlaceEconomics