University of Vermont

Community Participatory Action Research Network

Untitled Document

Project Profile

Indicators of Downtown Health

Academic Partner

Will “Chip” Sawyer, Center for Rural Studies, UVM

Elizabeth Reaves, Community Development and Applied Economics, UVM

Community Partner

Local Downtown Organizations – working to revitalize, enrich and preserve their downtowns and acting under the designation of the Vermont Downtown Program.  These organizations typically consist of the volunteer efforts of local residents and businesses, as well as limited paid staff.  The four participating downtown organizations are:
  • Bristol Downtown Community Partnership, Bristol, VT
  • Church Street Marketplace and Downtown Partnership, Burlington, VT
  • Montpelier Alive, Montpelier, VT
  • St. Albans for the Future, St. Albans, VT
This project is also a partnership with the following statewide entities:
  • Smart Growth Vermont
  • Preservation Trust of Vermont
  • The Vermont Downtown Program

Research Objective(s)

1.    To devise a list of indicators that can effectively and meaningfully communicate the health of a small downtown.

2.    To gauge the feasibility of indicator collection by downtown organizations.

Research Process

This project used a hybrid collaborative process to identify a list of indicators to be used to community difference aspects of downtown health.  An initial list was devised by the statewide entities partnered with the project.  The indicators were organized into indices of Economic Vitality, Livability & Cultural Identity, Urban Form, and Regional Working Landscape.  The opportunity to engage in the process of collecting the indicator data was advertised to the network of Vermont’s downtowns.  The four partnered downtowns agreed to become case studies.  A focus group was held in each case study area to explore local perceptions of the health of the downtown.  The staff and volunteers of each downtown then took the list of indicators and attempted to collect the data for their areas.  They were asked to note all of the aspects of their effort, including sources, successes and challenges.  The results of the local effort were then shared with representatives of all project partners.  A prioritized list of final indicators was chosen.  This list is now being brought back to the downtowns once again in focus groups to obtain local comments on the value and feasibility of the indicator process and to allow each group to come up with their own prioritized list of indicators.

Results and Impact on Community

The primary goal of this project is to devise a list of indicators that effectively communicate the health of a downtown.  The project has been designed to research the indicators that have most value to project partners and that also have the highest feasibility of collection, as learned by the case study downtowns.  The Center for Rural Studies and Smart Growth Vermont will produce a national manual for indicator collection by small downtowns.  And it is possible that the Vermont Downtown Program could begin requesting ongoing indicator collection by member downtowns.

The primary impact of this project is that Vermonters will finally have regularly-collected and standardized indicators available to help them understand the health of their downtowns and the challenges faced by these special areas.  A large amount of volunteer and political effort is spent on preserving and revitalizing Vermont’s downtowns, but no standard list of indicators for evaluating these efforts exists.  These indicators will help local, regional, and statewide actors more effectively plan and evaluate investments and policies for Vermont’s downtowns.

Another impact of this project is that the local downtown groups will have a new understanding of the process and usefulness of collecting community indicators and will hopefully enjoy a new form of information to help them understand the health of their downtowns and the fruits of their labor.

Last modified May 26 2010 11:01 AM

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