I was contemplating all the “newness” of our Public Square at a recent Main Street conference. The lecture was on Creative Placemaking, one of the latest “it” topics for historic downtowns. Every day I receive emails on the current trends such as tactical urbanism, the X-factor, place economics and anything relating to “Millennials,” that group of youngsters that is either going to save historic downtowns as we know them or be the ruin of the nation.
What do these new buzzwords and topics really mean? I believe it boils down to the fact that people want to live in an authentic community that has all the amenities of modern life close by or within walking distance. If the town doesn’t have these characteristics, developers will just create them in the suburbs with a “lifestyle center,” or as the speaker at the conference referred to them, fake historic downtowns.
As I heard more about creative placemaking, two questions came to mind: what does this have to do with our historic Square, and now that the TDOT Square Safety project is finished, does this mean the Lebanon Historic Public Square’s revitalization is complete?
To answer the first question, creative placemaking has everything to do with our historic Square. We are working to use our historic downtown for positive economic development. Authentic downtowns are becoming the darlings of investors, and handled properly, they can be real economic drivers for a community.
Historic Lebanon strives to bring everyone together to ensure our historic downtown reaches its full potential. It will take continued support from the city and county governments, the city planning department, Historic Lebanon, small business owners, investors, Realtors and the local community. All the elements are here, we just need to make sure the train is moving in the right direction and stays on track.
A real advantage Main Street communities have is the program’s strength in achieving economic vitality. Studies show for every one dollar invested in a historic downtown, there is a $36 return. This return on investment (ROI) is achieved by using the four points of the Main Street program: Design, Organization, Promotion and Economic Development, to present our Square is its best light.
My answer to the second question is “No, this is only the beginning!” With a safer traffic/pedestrian pattern and updates to the design elements of lightning, signage and landscaping, the Lebanon Public Square is ready to attract new businesses and boost patronage for current ones. Now we must focus on the upkeep of the historic buildings facing the interior and in the four quads of the Square and the creation of new housing options. Additionally, the construction of the Courthouse Square Pavilion and improvements to the old courthouse parking lot are on deck, and longer range plans need to include the development of creative spaces and public art.
To make the most of opportunities ahead, we, as a community, need to ask ourselves these questions:
What do we want our downtown to say about us?
- Are we innovative?
- Do we value our history?
- Are we using all of our assets?
- Do we know what these assets are?
- What type of impression do we give to tourists and visitors?
- Can we be hip and authentic at the same time?
- How do we tell our story so that people will listen and respond in a positive way?
- Are we making sure to include everyone in “our” story?
- Are we doing enough to attract investors and entrepreneurs?
- Are we making the most of our access to the commuter rail system and its close proximity to downtown?
I find the quest for the answers to these questions is the real “meat and potatoes” of my job as Executive Director for Historic Lebanon. All of these questions and their answers shape the programs and projects for our organization.
Lebanon has made great progress in the past three years. Starting with the acceptance of Historic Lebanon into the Tennessee Main Street program in the fall of 2013 to the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission by the City for historic zoning, and now the completion of the TDOT Safety project, Lebanon has seen new businesses open on the Square and a renewed interest in historic properties.
I will be writing a regular column to keep the community updated on our progress and to continue the conversation on how our historic Public Square can be the best it can be, not like Franklin, not like Cookeville, but the best authentic Lebanon it can be.
I welcome your thoughts and comments and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Parks has been involved with Historic Lebanon since 2009 as a board member, chairman and started her position as full-time executive director Nov. 1, 2012. A lifelong resident of Wilson County, Parks has three children and is married to Tracey Parks. She is the author of Images of America, Lebanon and co-author of 203 East Main Street, 100 years, Celebrating the History of Lebanon’s Original Federal Post Office Building. Parks currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce and is a 2014 graduate of Leadership Middle Tennessee.