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Resurrecting the Classic American Main Street

In an interview, urbanism scholar Emily Talen discusses what it would take to restore "main street principles" to American towns and cities. Understandably, small retailers play a big role.
March 30, 2018, 8am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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In an interview with Eric Jaffe, University of Chicago Urbanism Professor Emily Talen talks about why American streets have shed their main street lineage and what can be done to reactivate them. She references her study of Chicago, which found that only 13 blocks in the entire city conform to a list of main street must-haves.

Talen places emphasis on keeping small retailers in operation and giving their businesses room to grow. "First of all, I'd like to see more listening to what the retailers need. Are regulations hurting them? Is something the city's doing about parking requirements hurting them? It's my sense looking at the literature out there that there hasn't been enough listening to what the local independent retailer needs."

She argues that policymakers and community members should "[see] these small retailers along main street as more of a community anchor, an imperative. Right now it's not looked at like that at all. There is more emphasis on needing a park or a playground. Retailers are not looked at as part of the supporting fabric of neighborhoods."

Eliminating parking requirements and ensuring visibility through storefront windows are some of Talen's prescriptions. So are limits on chain stores and a healthy suspicion of e-commerce, which is "killing small retailers. That's a huge loss for the quality of our cities."

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Published on Friday, March 16, 2018 in Sidewalk Talk
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