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Measuring Main Streets - Urban Development
June 20, 2024

Canadian Urban Institute Introduces Measuring Main Streets Platform

Main streets are the backbone of Canadian society, with 85 percent of Canadians living within one kilometer of a main street. These streets are home to 280,000 businesses, providing 1.9 million jobs and generating $300 billion in annual revenue. They also house over 98,000 community and civic infrastructure assets.

However, planners, developers, and municipal leaders often consider investment decisions based on individual assets rather than the inter-relationship of civic assets, housing and other uses that can be anchored to a main street as the spine of a community. This narrow approach risks compromising the livability of communities by neglecting the scale at which residents and visitors experience a place.

In response, the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) has developed a groundbreaking toolkit on the newly released Measuring Main Streets platform. These resources, backed by two years of research funded by Infrastructure Canada, offer city builders the means to make informed investments at the main street scale to enhance community, resilience, and equity outcomes.

“Without the wider lens of neighborhoods and communities, it’s nearly impossible to assess the health and vitality of our most important places,” says Jennifer Barrett, Managing Director of Programs at CUI. “But up until now, there hasn’t been a way to capture the state of a whole community – the data is often inaccessible or fragmented.”

The Measuring Main Streets tool includes every main street across Canada, allowing users to evaluate housing, services, civic infrastructure, and more all in one place. This is the first research tool to use main streets as the primary unit of analysis, allowing any user to make the case for their main street.

“Main streets are the cornerstone of ‘complete communities’, where Canadians can live, work, and play all within their local neighbourhood,” adds Mary W. Rowe, CEO of CUI. “They are our economic powerhouses and social connective tissue. Decision-makers should invest in solutions to issues like housing, public safety, and sustainability at the scale of the main street, and now there’s a way to do it.”

Key main street data research findings include:

  • Main streets that predominantly serve their immediate local residents were the most resilient, compared to downtown main streets which were the least resilient during the pandemic.
  • The greatest deficits of civic infrastructure are predominantly found in more recently built suburban neighbourhoods, a community type where recent immigrants are more likely to live.
  • Green spaces contributed significantly to main street resiliency throughout the pandemic.

The Canadian Urban Institute has demonstrated a long-time commitment to Canada’s main streets. From Bring Back Main Street in 2018, a nationally coordinated research and action campaign for pandemic recovery, to two rounds of My Main Street, a $15-million program empowering main street businesses and community activations. Since the pandemic, CUI has engaged with diverse stakeholders including the Main Street Action Network to bolster Canada’s main streets, making Measuring Main Streets the latest effort in a push to place main streets at the forefront of thought and action in urbanism.

Using a data-driven approach, Measuring Main Streets explores what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next for Canada’s main streets, empowering city builders from the neighborhood to the national scale.

The Measuring Main Streets platform can be accessed here.

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