Smart Cities: Main Street Makeover

America’s Main Streets have big plans. Vote for your favorite.

Main Street is America’s quintessential address. The nation has 7,664 main streets, according to the National League of Cities. Main streets are where communities unite to celebrate, where cultures are exchanged, and where writers and pollsters stroll, eager to take the nation’s pulse. A main street is where a city reveals its face.

Now you can vote for your favorite—every day. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, in collaboration with Main Street America, launched Partners in Preservation: Main Streets, a program that will award up to $2 million in grants and funds to restore historic buildings and update street architecture along 25 main streets in American cities. The top vote-getters will receive funding.

This partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express has a long track record of success. Since its inception in 2006, Partners in Preservation has awarded more than $19 million in support of more than 200 sites. This year’s Partners in Preservation campaign takes place during the weeks leading up to Small Business Saturday, serving as a natural extension between preservation and our country’s thriving main streets.

This campaign also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s work to revitalize main streets. The program emphasizes the importance of these districts around the U.S. and their positive impact on local communities and economies.

Historic preservation isn’t just about saving history; it's smart for cities and towns. In a recent poll of 2,200 business owners, 79 percent say preserving Main Street is important, 84 percent say Main Street is important to the economic success of a community, 55 percent say restored buildings on Main Streets implies a healthy main street, and 42 percent say they would consider the proximity to a Main Street when deciding where to live. Another 65 percent of respondents say the preservation of Main Street is a factor in the success of small businesses, and 68 percent say locating their businesses on a thriving Main Street would be a consideration. Perhaps most importantly, 79 percent say the idea of Main Street is what makes America beautiful.

A timely renovation can jump-start a neighborhood. That’s what Germantown, Pennsylvania, and Dorchester, Massachusetts, are hoping their urban revitalization proposals with Partners in Preservation will do. The restoration of storefronts promises to help grow local businesses on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in New Orleans; in Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood; in San Diego’s historic North Park; or in Salt Lake City’s Granary District.

So cast your ballot at every day through October 31 for projects such as restoring a theater marquee in Richmond, California; sprucing up an 1893 cable-car building in Hyde Park, Illinois; or renovating a 1950s caboose in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Your vote could help re-electrify marquees on terrific old theaters in West Des Moines, Iowa; Cincinnati, Ohio; or Birmingham, Alabama. It could reupholster the seats of a theater in Greensboro, North Carolina. Or even redo the entire place­--lock, stock, facade, sign, lobby, foyer, and auditorium—in Oklahoma City’s 99-year-old Yale Theater or in Miami’s Little Havana (the intimate Manuel Artime Theater). Or create something altogether new, like Detroit’s proposed Building Treehouse performance space in the city’s Livernois-6 Mile Corridor.

Your vote can preserve celebrated structures. You may choose to spruce up the Formosa Café, in West Hollywood, California; it had a star turn in the movies L.A. Confidential and Swingers. Or you may vote to restore structures in the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

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You can vote for the restoration of a bandstand in the courthouse square of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Or even for an actual courthouse in McKinney, Texas. How about burnishing the Chinese lettering of faded advertisements in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District? Or recharging old electric letters for a new Vintage Neon Sign Park in Casa Grande, Arizona?

You also can cast your vote for places named for local heroes, like the E. Romero Hose and Fire Building, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which housed the Southwest’s first volunteer fire company, or Dr. McPhail’s building, in Franklin, Tennessee, named for a Scottish physician who immigrated to the Volunteer State in the 1880s and became one of the original Tennessee volunteers.

From Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy to Richmond, California, these are worthy projects that will preserve and enhance America’s irreplaceable main streets. Which one will get your vote?

Vote daily at

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