At one of our recent trainings, a community team I was facilitating decided they wanted to work on bringing their downtown to life. One of the elected officials on the team brought up that they would likely be challenged by their mayor once home on why they were prioritizing downtown over other parts of the community. It’s a valid question. Mayors are responsible for the well-being of the entire community, and they need rationale to explain their priorities.
Fast forward to a few days later, when I found myself browsing my Facebook feed. I noticed a beautiful photo taken for one of my friend’s recent weddings, with the bride and groom sharing a newlywed kiss on a gorgeous and quaint downtown main street. Why had their photographer decided to stage their photos in this particular place? Come to think of it, why were so many of my good friends’ wedding photographs often staged in similar settings? On streets of all places?
The answer isn’t complicated. We all know what makes a street special. Unique buildings, lush trees, kitschy window displays, public art, hanging flower baskets, and sandwich boards all work together to create an intriguing backdrop that is worthy of playing a part in our most treasured memories. These streets are the heart and soul of our communities, and they are what people remember about our towns.
To emphasize this point, I decided to have a bit of fun with Photoshop to demonstrate the stark contrast between great streets and well…streets that are quite the opposite.
The biggest thing that stood out to me is that when I placed the bride and groom on a “not-so-nice” street, they suddenly became dwarfed by their surroundings.
Streets are incredibly wide, and signs and buildings are oriented to cars rather than people. The bride and groom become lost in these photos, even in instances where the bride is wearing a beautiful (and poofy!) gown.
Do people look out of place on your streets? If the answer is “yes,” I would argue that is the best place to begin your community building efforts. To answer the mayor’s question from the community I was working with of “why prioritize downtown?” I would respond: Downtown streets are often what people remember about our communities. They speak volumes about who we are. Are our streets places for people, or places where people look out of place?