Revitalizing DeKalb

The objective was clear—to restore downtown DeKalb, Ill., to its former glory as the centerpiece of the community.

Pedestrian-friendly streetscapes were key to revitalizing downtown DeKalb, Illinois. Courtesy of Hitchcock Design Group

To be successful, the city formed a revitalization task force and commissioned a study to determine ways to bring economic improvment to this historically important area.

Despite the efforts of many, a variety of factors had debilitating effects on the area over the last several decades. An increasing number of local and regional retail competitors in easily accessible locations gave residents new shopping destinations to choose from, which led retailers located in downtown to lose the customers’ patronage.

Additionally, vacancies, deteriorating properties, and utilitarian streetscapes weakened the downtown’s overall appearance and image. The resulting lower traffic volumes and relatively wide streets allowed vehicles to move through the area at higher speeds, which in turn, decreased pedestrian comfort and safety.

Located a short distance from the main campus of Northern Illinois University—the region’s largest educational institution—downtown DeKalb is centrally situated within the city, and has successfully maintained its own cultural identity despite the many changes that have occurred over the years.

Due to its location at the crossroads of two state highways and close proximity to a network of interstate highways, the community also enjoys easy access to some of the region’s top amenities.

Additionally, the city is located on a major railway corridor that allows the possibility for commuter service in the future.

Recognizing all of the positive attributes this community has to offer, city leadership sought ways to increase revenue for the area and once again restore downtown to the destination it was previously.

Spice It Up

Among the many items listed in the plan to help revitalize the area, the need for expanded parking, improved traffic circulation, and enhanced streetscaping was prominent.

During the information-gathering process, community stakeholders were nearly unanimous in their consensus that the streetscapes needed to be improved. The final study created a long-term plan that called for a rejuvenated historic retail core that was compact and walkable, was the home of distinctive destinations, and possessed amenities reflecting DeKalb’s unique character.

Based on the study, city staff and the task force identified two key objectives:

To significantly improve the downtown’s image.

The focus was on strengthening downtown’s core image, improving the existing streetscape environment, and improving circulation. Community leaders understood that downtown was the backdrop for the many experiences that shoppers, commuters, students, employees, merchants, property owners, and other visitors had on a daily basis.

To provide a variety of downtown destinations that served the community and attracted visitors.

One of these destinations was a new DeKalb Square that would be at the heart of the historic retail core.

Greenery enhances parking areas. Courtesy of Hitchcock Design Group

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. The Starting Point
  2. Urban Bike Case Study
  3. Riverfront Roots
  4. Paducah, Ky., Veterans Day Parade
  5. Living Laboratory
  • Columns
  • Departments
  • Issues