Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New strategies for community engagement: Screen shot of a crowdsourcing initiative in Ithaca, NY.
If you are on twitter/follow planning blogs, “crowdsourcing” and “crowdsourced placemaking” has become so ubiquitous that it almost feels like the concept of having public participation in community planning was just invented. It wasn’t. But it is being reinvented.

Here’s a great website for learning more about crowdsourcing & case studies. 

Community Engagement: Out with the Old...
For too long, community participation was limited to weekend workshops or evening public meetings where participation usually ended with a thank-you and follow up was mostly through blurbs in the local newspaper.

Today, crowdsourcing is reinvigorating the process. Its strategy isn’t inviting people to a public meeting; it is inviting citizens to be part of the process. Instead of a municipality saying, “we will listen to you,” they are saying, “we will collaborate with you.”

Technology is a big component. Often, with crowdsourcing, a community website is developed to provide not just an online forum for conversations and background information, but a place to post ideas for new business and community amenities where the crowd can vote on them. The most popular ideas rise to the top where the city, developers, and entrepreneurs can take notice and make them a reality.

Crowdsourcing, while not exclusively urban, is not yet widely used in smaller towns. The first crowdsourced placemaking initiative that caught my eye a few years ago was in suburban Bristol, Conn, when the initiative, Bristol Rising, was just getting off the ground. The Bristol Rising website is a fantastic model to follow because you can get a sense for the entire effort and follow its progress as they move forward. You can see how the community redevelopment is taking shape and get an idea for its pace.

A private firm helped lead the community process – offering facilitation, the crowdsourcing software platform, and master plan development – and worked in a true partnership with the city, the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., and local citizens (including creating the online community). In-person and virtual engagement let the citizens shape the community – starting with the vision.

Bristol crowdsourcing has an offline element, like cash mob events
There were many steps involved in the process that I don’t mean to over-simplify, like zoning amendments, acquiring a 16-acre parcel of vacant land, conducting market research, and writing site plans and much more. But, throughout the whole process, the community was involved at every step and could tell the developers and leaders what they wanted and which types of projects and businesses they would support. This type of customer feedback builds the confidence of stakeholders – the residents know they are being heard, developers can gauge which projects would have a built-in customer base, and the city can gauge which public improvement projects would have public support.

People registered on the Bristol Rising website so they could give feedback in discussion forums (which were moderated and read to prevent people’s concerns and ideas from emptying into a black hole), suggest ideas, and vote on proposed ideas. For example, people indicated they wanted more restaurants. A local entrepreneur who dreamed of opening a cafĂ© posted her restaurant idea. It got 100 “likes” in two days, which was a record. She then posted information about her menu and hosted a sold-out ticketed tasting event. She is moving forward with her plan and is asking the crowd to help shape her concept so she can build a restaurant that they want. For now, she is incubating her business within an existing restaurant while she gears up to go out on her own.

Given the success of Bristol, I am very excited to see what is starting to happen in Middlesboro, Ky. The Main Street program, Discover Downtown Middlesboro (DDM), obtained grant money to fund a strategic planning exercise through the Appalachian Regional Commission. They are a pilot community for from Storm Cunningham’s new that offers resources and software for crowdmapping (identifying opportunities) and a crowdsourced community planning effort.

The effort was kicked off last month through two public lectures and facilitated discussions to get people familiar with the concepts and technology. I was lucky to participate in this event and was pleased to see that folks support this idea and can’t wait to get started.

[Of note: When it came to “crowdfunding” projects, however, skepticism emerged around who would make the first investment pledge and if people could trust that the money would be used for the proposed project. A completely understandable concern. But, at the opposite of the spectrum, check out how people are diving into funding a project in DC’s H Street Main Street lead by the crowdfunding trail-blazers Fundrise. They believe we should be able to invest in our own neighborhoods. Learn more about their work in Amy Cortese's NYT article.]

Crowdfunding platform for Fundrise's latest investment opportunity in DC
DDM’s initiative also incorporates a town-gown component – it will work with faculty and students from Lincoln Memorial University School of Business to analyze feedback and conduct additional research to prepare the formal strategic plan. Getting student involvement is brilliant because the university is literally just a few miles from downtown and their participation can shape the kind of college town they always wanted. I always love youth engagement but see potential for developing new partnerships and programs that literally graduate students into business owners and place them downtown storefronts. Filling vacancies and growing entrepreneurs.
Downtown Middlesboro, Ky., was built in a crater.

The opportunities for Middlesboro seem endless. I read the plans and consultants’ reports, I toured the town, and I visited the nearby communities. Middlesboro has so much potential – starting with its history. The town was built inside a crater! It had a boom economy and a period of lawless days that earned it the nickname “Little Las Vegas,” and was home to a host of characters with storied pasts. Downtown still has many of its historic buildings – they just need to fill them with businesses and add in historical site interpretation.
Me looking down at Middlesboro at the foot of the mountain

The downtown is ripe for tourism. (The fact that the town is “dry” will continue to hinder business development, which more people are becoming aware of.) This scenic part of Kentucky has much potential to connect several natural assets via bike-ped trails. The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is literally at its doorstep. Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road cut through the very mountain that you can see while standing on the main street. All of these assets, along with the nearby university, can and should be connected.

No doubt if anyone could navigate this crowd-led initiative in Middlesboro, it is DDM’s director Isaac Kremer, who you might remember from Oyster Bay Main Street in New York, where he lead a really cool planning process with DoTank:Brooklyn. The community came together to envision the future of their downtown and thought about what they could change in 48 hours, 48 days, and 48 months. Part of the effort included a “pop-up” component of which I am a huge fan. (Let people experience an idea rather than tell them about it!)

In their case, they made some short-term improvements like a pop-up street activation project where they added in streetscape amenities like benches and temporary landscaping, created popup businesses, hosted a small farmers market (which became permanent), and activated a previously desolate street. It was a cool way to show how design elements can impact a town.

I love a good crowd. Especially one that rises up to make a community better, and puts their money where their hearts are. Crowd technologies and crowd engagement techniques are made for downtowns and are game-changers for how we approach community development. All you need is a progressive and inclusive community leader and a dedicated citizenry who want to get involved so they can realize their vision together.

That has Main Street written all over it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gordon Ramsay’s Five-Minute Market Analysis

The Pink Cadillac Diner in Natural Bridge, Va. definitely differentiates itself.

It takes me awhile to get caught up on television shows. Last night, I watched episode three of Chef Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” (2007). In this series, where he troubleshoots struggling restaurants amidst great drama, he tucks some small business assistance gems into his shows:
  • open your eyes to what the competition is doing (or in this episode’s case, notice that there is, in fact, competition),
  • do an internal check to see if you’re measuring up, and
  • make sure to differentiate your establishment.
Bad photo of the map Gordon used to show the town's restaurants

He also did some quick-and-dirty market analysis.

He put stickers on a map of the district marking the locations of restaurants in 1997. There were three. He then pulled out another map showing the number of restaurants ten years later and it showed 40+. The staff were floored – they weren’t keeping track of their competitors.

Then he discussed the mix of different restaurants, but noted there was something missing. The owner figured it out - there were no healthy food options. Gordon bellowed, “Give them [the neighborhood customers] what they want!”

I shouldn’t assume that Gordon’s team surveyed the community (intercept, online, etc) and confirmed a percentage of customers wanted a healthy choice restaurant in the neighborhood. Without a quick survey, he might have been taking a risky guess at what the community wanted. With today’s crowdsourcing tools, online survey websites, and social media outlets, we can easily get feedback on the businesses community members desire (type of cuisine, price points, atmosphere, specific dishes or drinks). Information we learn can be shared with existing business owners and new entrepreneurs.

An idea: Mapping out the competitors in different business categories and identifying the competitive edge of each one can give business owners a head start on considering their market position. It might light up new opportunities, too, when they see what isn't being offered.

The Mixing Bowl owner made Gordon’s changes and enjoyed success for a few years, but like most of the restaurants featured during season one, it eventually closed. In this case, I am not sure why, but it sounds like most of the restaurant owners didn’t heed Gordon’s advice or they fell back into old habits.

How can ideas from this show help your downtown?

Here are two things that you can’t benefit from: once word got out that Gordon was in town, customers flocked to the establishments and then more customers came through the doors after the show aired. You can’t recreate that. But, the cash registers were ringing because they were doing something new and different that gave people a reason to come in. That is something any Main Street business can, and should, do.

Taking care to have a distinct atmosphere in the dining room, refreshing your look every few years, eating your own food to make sure it is still good, refreshing the menu annually if not seasonally – these are all things that will make a place special and give people a reason to come back.

But don’t forget about the people who don’t know you yet. Buying a well-designed (read: professionally designed) ad quarterly, if not monthly, won’t break your budget and should catch the eye of a few new diners so that the ads pay for themselves.

The poor manager who put awful vinyl signs outside of the Mixing Bowl featuring odd deals and urging people to order their Thanksgiving desserts weeks before the holiday hopefully got an important lesson. Those “specials” aren’t special. The signs were just noise that detracted from a high-quality image of the restaurant. The care you put into your business and your image makes its special and the efforts you make to stay ahead of your competition and keep your establishment fresh makes it exciting for customers. And, hopefully, for the employees, too.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cracking the Code: Rehabbing Older Buildings in the Face of Modern Code

Upper floor of historic building that will soon be rehabbed.
This week, the National Trust Main Street Center published a short article of mine on its website - "Upper Floor Housing: Bringing it Up to Code." It was originally written as a sidebar to my downtown housing article that is the feature of the current Main Street Now issue. (If you want a copy, please get in touch.) But, the article was epically long and graduated to a "primer," and they ran out of room for the code information to be included in the journal.

I am posting a few teaser paragraphs below and am linking to the full code article. I wanted to make sure my readers saw this because I am particularly interested in the International Code Council’s International Existing Building Code. It can make preservation projects more feasible by not challenging code enforcement officials to measure an older or historic building's safety by code written for modern buildings. The Existing Building Code doesn't seem to have widespread usage just yet. (Among others, New Hampshire and Washington state  adopted it. The small town of Burlington, Iowa, and Washington, DC, too, have adopted some of the code.) But, it appears to have a lot of potential to become another tool to add to your preservation toolbox and is worth checking out. 

"I have yet to speak to a developer or property owner who doesn’t groan when asked about bringing upper-floors up to code. No matter how business- or developer-friendly a city tries to be, the long road to getting a certificate of occupancy is a complicated one that has caused a lot of grey hair. There often are creative ways to meet code and cooperative code officials who want to support economic development, but the bottom line is that safety standards must be met.

Depending on what a property owner wants to do, upper-floor improvements and permitting might trigger updates in code that the owner isn’t prepared for financially.

“'When dealing with an older upper floor that has been vacant for a long time, you will need to make substantial upgrades, and when you invest in something and make upgrades, that triggers code,” says Mike Jackson, FAIA, chief architect of the Preservation Services Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. “The question then becomes what level of safety does it have to be and which code tricks and code knowledge can save you money so that you can afford to do the project.'”

Read the full Story of the Week over at

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Phone System for On-the-Go & On-the-Road Main Streeters

Jonathan_W via flickr Creative Commons
Don't be chained to your desk when you're expecting a call! (c) Jonathan_W via flickr
I am a huge fan of technology. Time to time I am going to talk about helpful tools and software that can help you do your job. Today, we are going to talk about a phone system made for Main Streeters.

If you are like me, you don’t love the idea of giving your private cell phone number out to everyone. But Main Street managers, and others who spend a significant amount of time away from their desks, either have to use their private cell or carry around a work cell phone, too.

But, there is a cool solution to this problem. There is a company called Simple Signal that gives you one office phone number that you can use at your desk phone and your cell. Why is it cool? You can make and take work calls from your private cell phone and your phone number shows up as your office phone.

This protects your private phone number, but it also means you don’t miss important phone calls when you have to be away from your desk and you don’t need to carry two phones or check multiple mail boxes, since everything is integrated into one inbox (time saving!). Another neat feature – voice mails can be converted into text so you can read incoming messages while you are in a boring meeting, and you keep your current phone number.

Their technology actually integrates your landline, cellular phones, your tablet (like an iPad), and your computer. So a conversation started at your desk phone can be continued on your cell or tablet if you need to run out. It’s an internet-based phone system so all you need is an internet connection. If you prefer texting – you can do that, too, from both your phone and your computer using your desk phone number! 

There are video features, too. You can make video calls to put a face with a voice through your tablet, smart phone, or computer’s web cam. The video collaboration features seem pretty cool for Main Street programs who want to have remote board or committee meetings that are a more personal than voice-only conference calls. If you want to do a conference call, you can set them up for up to 14 people with no notice or set-up required.

While we are talking about collaboration, have you ever been on a call when you are referring to a file, a website, an image… or really anything that lives on your computer that you wish you could just show to the person you are talking to in real time? Before, I have used webinar software to do this – especially when I ran committee meetings where I took notes real time and recorded group decisions on a shared document. Simple Signal lets you share a document, your desktop, a webpage all in real time during your conversation. This can make your phone calls and phone meetings more productive and effective. There is no, “let me email that file to you and we can talk about it after you get a chance to look at it.” Things can happen much quicker and your conversations can be more dynamic. Plus, you can record your calls (as long as you have permission of all parties) so you don’t forget any great ideas that came up in a brainstorming session.

If you get phones for your staff members or active board members and committee chairs, you can call them by dialing their extension. They can give out their work number, and it can roll over to their computer, tablet, or cell phone, too. This can add to the professionalism of your office.

I think video calls can be a great way to keep people engaged in a conversation. Main Street coordinating programs, too, can really get a lot of use from these features. Long distance calls are free, so the entire Main Street world can keep in touch. And you get unlimited minutes, so talk till the cows come home.

I am pretty excited about this tool and I feel like it fits with Main Streeters’ needs so seamlessly. And, the only reason why I know about it is because my friend works for Simple Signal. And any friend of mine is a friend of Main Street and City Thrive readers, so he is offering a discount for you all. You can save 20% on the service – so for example, if you do a three-year contract, you pay $35 per phone each month for the premium level, and $25 per phone each month for standard. Premium just has some extra features. If you want each phone to have a different number, you pay $1 more.

Shoot him an email and tell him that you read Andrea’s blog and are interested in learning more. Your name won’t be added to a marketing list and he won’t badger you. You’ll just get some info to learn more about it and a chance to ask questions. This isn’t a limited-time offer, either. If you want to think about it, squirrel this cool technology and the discount away in the back of your mind.

Below is a video with some technical stuff that I couldn't really explain to you if I tried. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

If We Decide Main Streets are Things of the Past, We are Committing Community Suicide

Franklin, Tenn., a Great American Main Street winner
In his blog posting on Switchboard, “Are Main Streets a Thing of the Past? Is that Ok?” Kaid Benfield suggests as much as he likes Main Streets, they are destined to be a distant memory of their once-thriving past. I have learned much from Kaid, as I am an avid reader of his posts on Switchboard and Sustainable Cities Collective. But I have worked with Main Street communities for 10 years, and have seen downtowns achieve outstanding successes. Main Street revitalization programs rally the community’s support to reinvent themselves through grassroots-driven, strategic economic development. I want to keep this dialog going.

I won’t pretend that every Main Street revitalization program has been successful - I've been to some crummy places. “Main Street” certainly does have a muddied definition because so many people (and companies) claim it. And I won’t pretend that I don’t enjoy a little ruin porn. But holding up Sandy Sorlien’s depressing, yet still beautiful, photographs as evidence that Main Street is dead puts a cloud over the thousands of existing communities working towards vibrancy. I am going to do the reverse and give you my optimistic photos and perspective and throw a few stats at you. The National Trust Main Street Center tracks the cumulative reinvestment data of its national network of local communities and reports: $53.6 billion in total reinvestment; 104,961 net gain in businesses; 448,835 net gain in jobs; 229,164 building rehabs; and a reinvestment ratio of $18:1. Those aren’t numbers of a failure.

Kaid's blog states: “A by-the-numbers environmentalist may not have a reason to: if land consumption is reasonably limited by new models, if places are walkable and reduce car trips and emissions by placing shops, services and people close together, if they are well located (and especially if also transit-served), why worry if someone’s sentimental bit of Americana isn’t what it used to be?”

Fruitvale, Ca., transit-oriented development
I, too, appreciate density…in proportion to scale. While downtowns have more density than sprawling suburbs, they don’t have the density of Manhattan; but America will never be a series of Manhattans, because not everyone wants that lifestyle or their jobs are connected to agriculture in rural areas. We shouldn’t abandon small towns for metropolises of glass towers when we can invest in and build on what’s already here. Density and adding transit-oriented development and infrastructure in older places is being done well – just look at the highly celebrated successes of Fruitvale in California.

I ask the by-the-numbers environmentalists, what is the impact to our environment if we demolished those 229,164 buildings that the Main Street network rehabbed? I am not worried about people who don’t care about being sentimental. I am worried about people who don’t care about embodied energy. The work of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab proved that “when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.”

The sweet spot for the Main Street Four-Point Approach to commercial district revitalization is in places with populations under 50,000 – of which there are 30,000 in the US. A former director of the National Trust Main Street Center once suggested that there are at least 30,000 central business districts in need of some level of reinvestment; and within those places, there are probably 3 million older and historic buildings needing some TLC and even green retrofits, and 5 million small and independent businesses giving new life to those older buildings. Throwing away those 30,000 existing communities is a horrific idea – but when we declare the death of Main Street and believe they are only good for remembering Americana – we are committing community suicide.

Environmentalists can’t afford to be so linear in their thinking. In fact, that is why I think the sustainability movement is so critical. It blends three important areas that traditionally had been silo’ed – environment, economics, everybody.

Lifestyle center in Clarendon (Arlington, Va)
It's not just about embodied energy. It's about embodied history, culture, and craftsmanship. But social sustainability is too often under-appreciated. Maybe because it acknowledges the “soft” assets of a community – the smaller buildings where independent businesses can afford a commercial lease or mortgage, “third places” for public gathering, sense of pride, inclusion and civic engagement, gorgeous architecture (that we can’t afford to build anymore), a structures that tell the stories of our nation. Our history and our built environment is of great value to Americans – note the surging support for preservation after New York’s Penn Station was demolished. I’d be shocked if in 100 years from now, people have a similar reaction to tearing down lifestyle centers, although I do feel they are a better way to develop the suburbs. (On a more personal level, I have yet to have a memorable experience in front of the isolated fountain by the Crate and Barrel in Clarendon’s lifestyle center.)

On the economic side of things – the National Trust for Historic Preservation didn’t form the Main Street Center because of nostalgia. It figured out that comprehensive revitalization and economic development (the Main Street Four-Point Approach) can save historic buildings. The economics piece trumps preservation so much that the Trust is spinning the Center off as a subsidiary.

Good customer service in Rogersville, Tenn.
When you are restructuring an economy that sat idle for 30 years, your work is cut out for you. But you take inventory of your assets, opportunities, and what your competition does better and you figure out what your position is in the marketplace. Then you work your ass off to get there. Sometimes, it is becoming a travel destination or building on the good fortune of being in a college town – but most of the time it about discovering the sales leakage and pent up customer demand for products and services and finding ways to plug the leak and meet the demand. These aren’t magical economic circumstances; they are results of market analysis. We can’t buy socks on most Main Streets anymore. But, let Walmart sell those. Main Street is better off being a home for unique independent restaurants and shops, where attention is placed on providing an experience and personalized customer service.

Here are just two quick success stories of successful Main Street districts that aren’t tourism destinations and aren’t wealthy bedroom communities of larger cities.

Artsy, quirky cool Old Town Lansing, Mich
  • The local Main Street program in Old Town Lansing, Michigan, began in 1996 amidst crime, grime, and a 90% vacancy rate. The changes from applying the Main Street approach are dramatic – 13 businesses open during the recession and today there is an 11% vacancy rate and the district saw $55,800 in public investment and $6,231,531 in private investment. Entrepreneurs and artists made a commitment to the community and led with arts-related development. Artist-created public art and street furniture, arts-related businesses and galleries, and arts-oriented events brought people back.
Before & after of the "Pink Palace" a community-led rehab
  • Jacksonville, Illinois, is a small town with a population of 19,466. When its Main Street program started in 1999, the commercial vacancy rate was 27%. Today it is 6%. Urban Renewal decimated the downtown and shattered the spirit of the local people. But the people persevered despite all odds – little support at the start of implementing the Main Street Approach, high crime rate, and no economic bullet. $17 million in private reinvestment and $7 million in public improvements later – their Main Street is thriving. The Main Street program spearheaded rehab of a historic home that had became a haven for drug users and transients at the district’s gateway. People volunteered their time and resources - the bank donated the money that would have been used for demolition, trade school teachers taught students how to perform tuck pointing and other skills, and prison laborers help get the job done. Once complete, the home was sold for $20,000 more than what real estate experts said it could and the day-to-night change in appearance sparked $85,000 in investment in nearby homes.
A blog entitled “Are Main Streets a Thing of the Past? Is that Ok?” has already decided that they are relics. But Main Street towns are still here – they were built with pride and built to last. Keeping them going is the highest level of recycling and realizes the goals of smart growth. Reviving an economy isn’t easy; big box stores and e-commerce are challenges, and, hell, financing rehabs and mixed-use projects today is tough. But it is being done – so, please, let us talk about that. People aren’t saving Main Streets because of idealized visions of Mayberry. They save them because they are great places to live, visit, and work and with strategic economic development efforts and the support of the community, they will always have a future.
Culpeper, Va., community members celebrating a new public art installation done by a local artist

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Learn about Real Estate: Don't Become the Butt of Preservation Jokes

Beautiful downtown Lynchburg, Va.

Have you heard this one? An owner of a historic building walks into a bank…

You know the punch line – the lender says, “no.” There are many reasons why a preservation project might not move forward. Some of the reasons might have to do with the market, some may have to do with the business plan, some might have to do with the lender, others might have to do with Mercury in retrograde.

I’ve been learning a lot about financing rehabilitation projects lately. I’ve learned lenders can be a bit linear, too often showing preference single-use projects because they don’t “get” mixed-use or they will only fund the residential portion of the project. But my biggest lesson overall is that the bottom line when when dealing with financiers is that they always like to see signed tenants for your project. Before you even lift a hammer, signed leases from business owners or residents light up a banker’s eyes.

In the beautiful riverside town of Lynchburg, Va., the owner of a turn-of-the-century shoe factory was trying to fuel the momentum of the downtown revitalization by bringing a gorgeous rehab project to the table with a couple of businesses of which he was going to be the owner and manager. He approached lenders and tax credit investors for more than a year with his project that he pitched as a hotel, two restaurants, and a microbrewery. It seemed like a great project and it had the complete support of the city – the municipality even provided land for a parking lot and property tax abatement incentives.
Giant shoe paying homage to the building's heritage.

The developer finally sought help from Tetrault & Associations. (Full disclosure: Al Tetrault was a professor of mine and the first person who made real estate and tax credits make sense for me.) The team had an “Ah-ha!” moment and suggested that the project be repackaged to tax credit syndicators and lenders as a real estate deal – not as a series of businesses including a hotel, restaurants, and microbrewery. The owner of this 55,875 square-foot diamond-in-the-rough pitched his project as a rehabilitation of two historic warehouses that was pre-leased with four businesses. Even though he was still the owner of the businesses, he hired four managers for each business and pitched his project as a real estate deal.

It worked. This real estate deal raised almost $17,000,000 in debt and equity in less than 90 days. The $21-million project also took advantage of federal preservation tax credits, new market tax credits, a HUD 108 loan, and $3 million from local private investors.

No joke.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Street Trees

Trees lining Main Street districts provide an inviting atmosphere for pedestrians, provide shade, add character, clean the air, and nest twinkly lights during events and holidays. According to Dan Burden, "a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree."*

Can you believe there are street tree adversaries? Some business owners fear the tree canopy will block their facades, causing them to lose customers, or perceive falling leaves as messy or a potential slipping hazard. (Honestly, anyone who blames a tree for a business failure has problems that run deeper than vegetation.)

But, the positives prevail! Plenty of studies show that street trees have economic benefits, slow traffic, encourage people to spend money, reduce crime, enhance driver safety, raise home prices, have health benefits, and make positive first impressions among visitors/customers.

Your planning department as well as local arborists and horticulturalists can be a huge help in selecting the right street trees; and the latter can talk about proper care, appropriate grates, and maintenance. Design professionals or SketchUp whizzes can create design schemes so you can visualize how a certain tree species will look on your street. Your favorite Main Street community can help show how the right kind of tree can make the district look awfully attractive and not block the facades. My favorite example of street trees done well is in Lewisburg, Penn. The photos in this blog showcase how the height and spacing of the right tree can accentuate, not detract from facades and store signage.

* If you need quantified data on the benefits of street trees, Burden's 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees is truly your best source. 

** And, Leda Marritz just blogged for Next City about how to help keep our urban trees healthy. Why is that important? She points out that the USDA Forest Service recently determined that U.S. cities are losing around 4 million trees annually!