UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Downtown revitalization : a general investigation and an evaluation of British Columbia’s Downtown revitalization program Nowlan, Nancy Colleen


This thesis focuses on downtown revitalization in small towns, concentrating'on government involvement in the process. Many early attempts to revitalize were based on physical improvements to existing buildings and streetscape. It was assumed that these changes would cause an economic revival downtown. This assumption is investigated in this thesis as are the related questions: what is downtown revitalization? How can it best be accomplished? Are downtown revitalization programs achieving their goals? Background research included an examination of downtown, its history, reasons to revitalize, and the evolution of thought on how downtowns could be revitalized. Most downtown revitalization work has concentrated on physical improvements to downtown streets and stores, although methods have broadened to include non-physical aspects such as: promotions, merchandising, organizing businesses, encouraging anchor developments and adopting positive government policies towards downtown. The B.C. Downtown Revitalization Program is evaluated to determine what it has accomplished in B.C. towns and whether it achieves its objectives and the general goals of revitalization. The methods and problems of evaluation are noted as a prelude to the evaluation, which uses eight case study towns located on Vancouver Island. Through research and interviews the perceived effects of revitalization projects are examined. The objectives of the Program, although somewhat unclear, are based on the current thought that revitalization entails more than physical improvements to downtown businesses. However, the Program was initiated to help small business and in its structure emphasizes physical improvements. Some of the Program's objectives are fufilled in that it is an aid to revitalization, a first positive step for many towns. Most business people reacted favourably to the Program. However, the broader goals discussed in the Program Guide were not acted upon. The Program is criticized for providing widespread assistance to most B.C. downtowns when the needs of these towns vary substantially. The thesis concludes with recommendations for improving the Downtown Revitalization Program, for towns undertaking the Program, and a discussion of further issues. It is recommended that the B.C. Program be improved by: clarifying its objectives, developing criteria for funding, giving incentives to hire downtown managers and providing more initial guidance in the form of planning, organization and analysis. It is recommended that towns undertakng the Program learn from the case study towns by considering important aspects of the revitalization process such as: proper timing, long term planning, using all phases of the Program and maintaining a strong business association which has a good relationship with the municipality. Finally, suggestions for further issues of study include the questions of whose interests are served by downtown revitalization, how to evaluate the importance of downtown to the community, why towns initially came to need aid downtown and how that aid can be most effectively provided.

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