Downtown Planning for Smaller and Midsized Communities

By Philip Walker, AICP

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Originally published in 2009 — e-book version released in 2013.

"For so long we were floundering and taking ad hoc measures, but the minute I understood what a downtown plan really was I said 'We need one of those!' As it turned out, it was the most fantastic vehicle I've ever seen," said Susan Moffat-Thomas of New Bern, North Carolina. Her hometown got a much-needed shot in the arm from a good downtown plan. Does yours need a similar boost?

Philip L. Walker, an experienced downtown-planning consultant, offers practical tips for preserving a sense of place, improving fiscal efficiency, and enhancing quality of life in Downtown Planning for Smaller and Midsized Communities.

Planners and revitalization officials will learn how to address physical components of the downtown, as well as economic development. Walker, an experienced downtown-planning consultant, also explains how to develop an organization to implement a downtown plan; how federal, state, and local policies may influence the planning process; and how to fund a downtown revitalization effort.

About the Author

Philip L. WalkerPhilip L. Walker, AICP, is the principal of the Walker Collaborative, which is involved in downtown planning and neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, and community visioning. Prior to that, he was the director of planning for the Nashville office of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects. Previos positions include principal of Community Planning & Research, Inc. in Nashville; senior associate at Christopher Chadbourne & Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the director of city planning for the city of Natchez, Mississippi; associate at Hintz/Nelessen Associates in Princeton, New Jersey; and executive director of the Downtown Improvement Board in Pensacola, Florida.

Walker earned a Master of Design Studies (Real Estate Development) degree from Harvard University, a Master of Arts degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Historic Preservation from Middle Tennessee State University.

Walker is affiliated with several planning and preservation groups. Among these are APA, the American Institute of Certified Planners, The Urban Conservancy, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and National Main Street Center.

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Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
Oct. 1, 2013
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents

What Is a Downtown?
Mixed Land Uses
What Is a Downtown Plan?
Previous Work on the Subject
Intended Audience
Research Basis
How to Apply This Book
The Bigger Picture

Chapter 1. The Groundwork Before Planning
What Prompts a Plan?
Keeping Planning in Perspective
Selling the Need for a Plan

Chapter 2. The Process of Preparing a Downtown Plan
Diagnostic Phase: Research and Analysis
The Big Ideas: Creating the Concept Plan
Rolling Up Your Sleeves: Draft Plan Preparation
Finalizing the Plan
What Happens After the Planning?

Chapter 3. The Physical Plan
Land Uses: Mix Them Up
Blocks, Lots, Streets, and Alleys
Making Your Downtown Pedestrian Friendly
Loading Areas
Transportation Alternatives
Public Spaces, Art, and Interpretation
Infrastructure and Utilities
Harnessing Mother Nature

Chapter 4. The Economic and Marketing Plan
Understanding the Market
Identity Development
Centralized Retail Management
Business Development
Marketing and Promotion
Social Issues

Chapter 5. Implementation Strategy
Organizational Structure
Public Policy
Funding and Financing
Priorities, Assignments, and Phasing

Chapter 6. Conclusions: What Is Really Important?
Public Involvement
A Clear Vision
Respect for the Past
Urban Form
Reasons to Be Downtown
Incremental and Comprehensive Implementation
Plan Flexibility and Continuity
Final Thought


Study Questions


"Vibrant, attractive, user-friendly downtowns don't just happen. They are the product of vision, dedicated leadership, effective partnerships and, as Philip L. Walker points out, good planning. This useful guide addresses a wide range of design issues, from one-way streets and infill architecture to show-window displays and public art, and offers a common-sense overview-seasoned with insightful first-hand reports from downtown veterans-of how the local planning process should work. The result is a roadmap that can help communities get the kind of downtown that everyone needs and wants — and deserves."

—Richard Moe
President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

"A comprehensive guide for planning small- and medium-size downtowns, this book is a must for today's planners, local leaders, and students of the field."

—Eugenie L. Birch, FAICP
Professor of Urban Research and Education, University of Pennsylvania

"To make this a century of wise environmental stewardship (rather than one of more sprawl and urban disinvestment) will require us to take much better care of the places we've already made. If you care about the center of your town, and wish to make it better, you must keep a copy of Downtown Planning for Smaller and Midsized Communities nearby and at the ready."

—Alex Krieger
Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design

"The sustained success stories in downtown revitalization have a set of common denominators: incremental change, participatory process, comprehensive management, effective use of historic buildings, and a handful of others. Phil Walker has done an excellent job of laying out the steps, the ingredients, and the "whys" as well as the "hows." This is an excellent guidebook for the interested citizen as well as the professional planner."

—Donovan Rypkema Principal, PlaceEconomics