ERWIN’S THRIVING DOWNTOWN ACTIVITY CENTER
Location: Erwin, TN
Population: 5,910 (2020)
Typologies: Retirement, second-home; Traditional main street; Edge
Key takeaway: By focusing on attracting investment to its historic downtown, expanding broadband, and improving access to local amenities and commercial areas, Erwin has created a thriving downtown activity center, where residents can safely walk to the various amenities and services that draw them to the area.
While some rural communities have struggled in the face of economic shifts, and continue to face the challenges to expanding broadband access, Erwin, TN—a town of just 6,000 people—is successfully adapting by attracting investment to its historic downtown, expanding broadband, and improving access to local amenities and commercial areas in the process. Erwin already has a relatively compact town center and lots of potential for revitalization, with commercial activity clustered around the downtown area and two of the largest employers in the area located in the southwest area of the city, a short drive from downtown.
Erwin has had great success with improving broadband access which supported businesses in the downtown and easy switch to remote work during COVID. But the city realized it’s still not a great downtown from a walkability perspective. They did a sidewalk assessment study during COVID with an intern walking all streets in the town and grading them on a scale which is now being used by the local government for their long range plan so they have a strategy to create a walkable network rather than merely a walkable Main Street.
Erwin has also worked to transform its downtown into a thriving activity center, in part due to the work of grassroots organization, RISE Erwin. Erwin changed some of the town’s ordinances to allow residences in the commercial downtown area, marketed the downtown to businesses, and installed several public art projects, including securing Tennessee Arts Commission funding to install a large mural on the pavement of downtown streets in an area with a skate park, library, and two art studios. The city reported that traffic has since slowed on the streets with the mural, making it safer for people walking to the library and skate park.