Understanding Our Downtowns: Faculty-Student Research Guides Municipal Policy

October 1, 2013

(Olympia, Wash.) Many towns in Washington State are engaged in a competitive race to lure business and revenues to their retail areas, according to a survey of 200 small and medium-sized municipalities recently conducted by a faculty-student research team at The Evergreen State College.

Evergreen faculty member Jennifer Gerend is presenting the preliminary results of the survey this week in a session on local retail planning at the meeting of the Washington State chapter of the American Planning Association October 2-3 in Bellevue.

Gerend believes the Evergreen data will help planners guide retail development more efficiently and perhaps begin a regional dialogue around planning for retail.

“A surprising finding from this data was that, in most of our surveyed municipalities, downtowns were not the main areas for sales tax revenues and shopping,” said Gerend. ”Respondents overwhelmingly noted downtowns’ importance in other ways, such as for tourism and the community identity.”

According to Gerend, much of the scholarly research on U.S. downtowns and retail planning has been in the form of case studies. There are also many how-to guides for practitioners. The Evergreen data quantifies municipal policies, staff activities, and the functionality of different retail areas today, in a way that case studies do not.

Further analysis on the complete scope of topics from the survey will be ongoing throughout the year, with scholarly publications to follow. In addition to Gerend, the scientific study team included Evergreen student Shira Moch (with funding from Evergreen’s new Summer Undergraduate Research Program), Evergreen faculty member Ralph Murphy and Mathew Novak from Central Washington University.