Des Moines, We Sustainably Knew Ye: Main Streets Conference Comes to Iowa

Chaden Halfhill at Indigo Dawn booth, Main Streets Conference

Chaden Halfhill speaking with Tim Reinders, Design Consultant with Main Street Iowa.

The National Main Streets Conference

The National Main Streets Conference opened earlier this week in Des Moines. Events ranged from tours to evening outings while the central meet-up point was the Polk County Convention Center where 1,300 people convened over a four-day period.

Sunday offered a free session on the Main Street Four Point Approach, created through the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington D.C. The Four Point Approach is characterized by Design, Organization, Promotion and Economic Restructuring. It is a very specific template to follow in order to be considered a Main Street Community through the National Trust’s program.

A pilot project began in 1977 through the Chicago office. Three communities throughout the Midwest were chosen and the Trust pledged to work with them for three years to assist with strategies that identified assets and impediments to ultimately leverage the good stuff for downtown economic revitalization. A book grew out of this experience and currently 40 U.S. states have active Main Street programs and communities, the direct outcome of which is new business, physical improvements and community vitality.

Participating Iowa community banners, Main Streets Conference

Banners representing Iowa’s 45 Main Street communities as displayed at the National Main Streets Conference.

What is a Main Street Community?

So what is a Main Street Community? As over a hundred of us sat in a large conference room, we learned it is a shared vision with a tremendous amount of work. The outcomes, however, are incredible and far reaching. There are 45 active Main Street Communities in Iowa, including Woodbine, Spencer, West Union, Marshalltown, Ames, West Branch, Central City, Burlington, Osceola, Iowa Falls, West Des Moines and the 6th Street Corridor in Des Moines.

In 1985 the Iowa Legislature adopted the program and placed it within the purview of the Iowa Department of Economic Development in order to

…improve the social and economic well-being of Iowa’s communities by assisting selected communities to capitalize on the unique identity, assets and character of their historic commercial district. Main Street is economic development within the context of historic preservation.

The National Main Street Community Criteria that is followed are ten-fold:

1. Have broad-based public and private support

2. Vision and mission statements

3. Comprehensive work plan

4. Historic preservation ethic

5. Active board and committees

6. Adequate operating budget

7. Paid, professional program director

8. On-going training for staff and volunteers

9. Reporting of key statistics

10. Current member of National Main Street Network

Economic & Cultural Development Presentation, Main Streets Conference

Economic & Cultural Development presentation.

Volunteers & Community

The formula is comprehensive and community-driven. It seeks to flesh out and leverage traditions and expertise of a town or region meeting needs for economic stability, growth and solid expectations about a vital future.

There are an untold number of volunteers around the state who see that their future will one day be somebody’s present. These are motivated people who want their extensive efforts for the cultural and economic revitalization of their communities to be a solid footing on which many others can learn, grow, contribute and thrive.


– Jean Danielson is director of operations for Indigo Dawn. She likes sidewalks and walking down them while window shopping. And then buying things.

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