While it seems there’s no escaping winter with this seemingly endless snow, my mind has been stuck on the fall – specifically the terrific fall edition of Main Street Now, a publication from the National Main Street Center. I highly recommend this issue for anyone interested in the future of Main Street and what we can be doing now to usher in the next great era of downtowns.

Thumbnail Future of Main Street
While I could speak at length on several of the topics raised, for now I want to focus on the idea of integrating emerging technology and innovative creativity into our downtowns and Main Streets. In her article, “Investing in Main Street’s Future,” Kennedy Smith highlights some of the neat things other communities are doing to create unique, dynamic and useful experiences for residents and visitors, on both the small and large scale. Using a smartphone to pay for parking and LED streetlights that brighten when pedestrians are near will soon be the norm in a successful downtown. In Holland, Michigan, a decision to repave the downtown became an intriguing exercise in creative practicality when they “route[d] heated water from the local power plant through more than 60 miles of PEX pipe placed under the new paving, creating a cooling loop for the power plant and providing radiant heat that would keep downtown streets and sidewalks free of ice and snow in winter.” It’s perhaps no surprise that within a few years, several hundred new apartments appeared in the downtown and first-floor vacancies dried up like the snow.

The author notes that much of this technology will be driven by tech-savvy Millennials, already drawn to downtowns because of their inherent walkability, authenticity, repurposed-ness (being green-minded, they like the idea of old buildings being re-animated – think mill and factory buildings converted into apartments or breweries). Baby boomers also increasingly want to stay in these vibrant areas (if radiant sidewalks with no snow shoveling required can make it to my neighborhood, I’m in!) where utilitarian amenities improve quality of life and experience.

Knowing Connecticut has both a mushrooming aging population and a lackluster young demographic that each need to be addressed, we must be willing to embrace the opportunities that incorporating technology into our Main Streets can provide. I, for one, am excited by the possibilities – and that’s coming from a guy with a flip-phone!