Tip Sheet: Regenerating Canada’s Downtowns

Drawing on the lessons learned from success stories from across the country, here are some of the key activities that can help you regenerate your downtown.

Your Fundamentals

With their rich legacy of built heritage, Canada’s historic downtowns reflect the unique social and economic evolution of their communities.

Yet many have been in decline for decades as they face challenges from ‘edge of town’ commercial developments and more recently from new on-line competition.

Creative solutions exist to counter those challenges, and communities are recognizing that their historic downtowns can capitalize on their assets and become economic incubators and drivers, to create vibrant and livable downtowns.

Successful regeneration initiatives involve leaders from key stakeholder groups, who work collaboratively to champion the downtown. These include:

  • The municipal government who has the responsibility for planning and maintenance of the streets, removing barriers to economic development, and promoting events;
  • The businesses operating in the downtown and their organizations (BIAs, Downtown Business Associations, Chamber of Commerce); they are critical players in coordinating, promoting and leading regeneration activities;
  • Community groups (heritage, social or cultural) are vital to creating dynamic events by providing the crucial volunteer horse-power to plan and executed events.
  • The local / regional Tourism Association / department are responsible for promoting events to a broader audience; and
    Downtown institutions (social service agencies, places of faith, academic institutions), whose mandate, physical presence, or political pull, can all contribute to the success of a regeneration project.

Adopt Core Principles

The National Trust’s proven Main Street Approach offers a set of core principles for achieving a successful downtown regeneration initiative. These include:

01. Be Open to All Voices in Creating the Vision

Embrace diversity. Downtowns offer space and opportunities for people of all talents, ideas, and cultural backgrounds to participate. Look at who makes up your community and be open to all to contribute to the vision for turning around downtown.

02. Adopt Strategies That Are Market and Economics Oriented

Downtowns make significant contributions to local economies. People need to earn a living from downtown’s businesses and properties. It is critical to research, compile the data, and develop strategies that effectively market and strengthen the downtown economy.

03. Promote Downtown as a Living Place

Recruit a healthy mix of housing and accommodations in downtown spaces, and as well as pedestrian and cycling amenities, and essential services such as grocery stores.

04. Employ A Social and Environmental Lens In Determining Direction

Downtown infrastructure – private and public – represents a major contribution to our environment – in building materials and utilities. A conservation approach to adaptive re-use of existing buildings, of “greening” downtown through seeking energy efficiencies is important. Ensuring that downtown is a safe and welcoming environment, and that all those who interact with downtown are housed, and provided with essential services is increasingly a role that downtown regeneration initiatives must accommodate.

05. Integrate Cultural Planning Practices Into Your Plan

Downtown, as Jane Jacobs, noted urbanist stated, “Is a stage set with a colourful cast of characters and activities”. People intrinsically want to experience downtown’s setting, its architecture, and social, and cultural events. Every community has considerable creative talent, no matter the size. Invite the arts, heritage, cultural groups and individuals into your downtown regeneration program. They will respond in wonderful and enriching ways!

Take Action!


Downtown regeneration is both planning and doing.


It is a dynamic and continuous process that quite frankly, should never cease if the community aspires to remain sustainable for generations into the future.


Try new ideas, and learn from what works and what doesn’t.


Collaborate with neighbouring municipalities: think of them as partners rather than competition.