Once again Emily McMackin provides a terrific overview of communities that are finding reinvestment either tied by or reacting to arts and culture. I live in a community where the local chamber/bankers wanted no part of the arts community. They were looked at as being strange hippy types (and frankly, many are old hippy types), and something not to be encouraged. Enter the Kent Stage and a reinvigorated music scene, a retiree with cash to burn and the downtown is undergoing a growth not before imagined except maybe by the arts folks. The new shops going in are for the most part, arts and food oriented entrepreneurial storefronts.
Arts & culture can improve most any downtown area, regardless of size, and if it is reflective of the immediate community. I am becoming a believer that a downtown area, especially a smaller non-suburban downtown area (population of 25,000 or less) should look at its immediate environment and embrace it as a source of identity, combining reflective types of arts and entrepreneurship to it. Not every small town needs a Starbucks. A friendly coffee shop that at least makes a decent breakfast, lunch with good desserts and wifi should do just as well.
Rural small towns are going to have a tougher time – as they often do because they are perceived as being in the middle of nowhere. Again, with the right identity and variety of accesses – especially on a bike/hike trail route or a river that can be traversed by canoe or kayak can provide significant economic impact over time. A small performance hall by local/regional musicians should also be encouraged.
But, these are not McDonald’s solutions – they are not going to happen at the speed of a drive-thru. A dedicated concerted effort over 3 – 5 years can provide a good start, as it may take longer than 10 years to get there.