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Street Talk

Beautification Alone Won’t Save Downtown

By Mickey Howley

“Positive and comprehensive action is needed from both public and private sectors in order to prevent any decline or stagnation….

The extent to which people are concerned will determine their response to the idea of Central Business District revitalization. Since everyone has a stake in the future of the downtown, few are willing to see it decline, because when the downtown goes, so goes the city. Simple decoration will not cover up the problems causing the decline. The downtown can not be saved by beautification alone…

Improvements to the streetscape must be considered as improvement of the whole. To start with “Let’s fix up our storefronts” is a backward approach. Improvements should start from the point of view of the people the downtown area must serve: shoppers, clients, employees, and residents…

The shopping environment of the Central Business District can be improved. Revitalization can be a reality for any community willing to commit itself to the patience, sound planning, and effort required to make the downtown a complete shopping experience.”

The above quote comes not from the 2009 Water Valley Planning Charrette Report but from the copy on my desk of the Water Valley Central Business District Beautification Plan from April 1976. That’s right, 1976, the Bicentennial year.

I was a junior in high school, had a full head of hair and a ‘69 Camaro. Much has happened in the thirty three years since that time.  Of course, my hair is gone and the Camaro has rusted, but looking at the photos in the 1976 plan it seems Water Valley has shared a similar fate. Key buildings are gone, either by fire or demolition; there are fewer businesses on Main Street.

This is not to say there has been no progress. I can think of at least a dozen buildings that are now dramatically improved since 1976. But economic activity on Main Street in general comparing 1976 to 2009 seems less.

Reading the 1976 plan and the 2009 plan side by side, one can’t help but be struck by the same issues; building conditions, streetscape look, public infrastructure, the need for economic development, public and private involvement. By 1976 the decline of small town downtowns was readily apparent from the heyday years of the 1940s and 50s. The reason was people were shopping elsewhere, malls were new and cool and “big box” stores were just starting.

The 2009 plan differs in that it adds historical and preservation components, something not addressed in 1976, but more importantly it has a detailed market analysis.  How much money is spent here and how much money leaves to Oxford and Batesville and beyond. Those dollar figures are, perhaps, the best thing the 2009 plan brings to light over the 1976 plan.  Keeping what we have and developing new opportunities and re-structuring creatively the existing framework of the downtown economy are what the 2009 plan dramatically improves upon the insightful work of the 1976 plan.

The 2009 Charrette Planning group made a poster that lays out the basic idea of the plan. I have a thousand copies and a copy is free to anybody interested.  Come by the Main Street Office. Plus, if you’d like to read the 2009 plan, e-mail me at and I’ll send you a copy. It is an eye opening read on what is and what is possible.

The team winning state was top response for last week’s survey on the Blue Devil’s chances this year. I hope that is the case.

See www. for this week’s survey on what action you’d like to come out of Water Valley’s Charrette.

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