Small Cities and Towns Have a Lot to Offer

By Appel, Sherry Conway | Nation's Cities Weekly, June 13, 2005 | Go to article overview

Small Cities and Towns Have a Lot to Offer


Appel, Sherry Conway, Nation's Cities Weekly


Did you know that the majority of U.S. cities have populations under 50,000 people? Yet these cities are full of energy and creativity.

The following is just a sampling of how small cities have turned one or two strengths into major attractions. What can you do in your city to enhance its vitality?

The examples are from the City Knowledge Network at www.nlc.org, a member service of the National League of Cities.

Grapevine, Texas, population 42,059

The City of Grapevine uses its name and agricultural heritage to encourage tourism by promoting wine-related festivals and vineyard and winery development.

By developing special "Vintage District" zoning, the city council encourages vineyards as a buffer between highways and residential areas and the adaptive reuse of such historical structures as wine tasting rooms.

The wineries are effective in attracting other tourism development such as restaurants, galleries, and specialty retailers.

The city also sponsors GrapeFest, the largest wine festival in the Southwest, including the competitive Grape Stomp for the Purple Foot Award.

Contact: Tommy Hardy, development services director 817-410-3150; thardy@ci. grapevine.tx.us

Wildwood, N.J., population 5,436

Wildwood found a way to preserve its history of 1950s "Doo-Wopian" architecture, creating a tourism draw for the community as well as placing the city on the state and national register of historic places. The city receives funding from federal, state, and county governments to both preserve buildings from the 1950s and build new structures using the Doo-Wop theme.

It utilizes several techniques to preserve its heritage: strengthening code enforcement efforts; pursuing development of a Historic Preservation Plan; developing architectural design standards; and employing the Doo-Wop theme for street signage in appropriate areas.

This program received the 2003 New Jersey State League of Municipalities Innovation in Governance Award in the Use of History to Enhance Economic Development category.

Contact: Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr., 609-522-2444

Muskogee, Okla., population: 38,310

The Muskogee Convention and Tourism Multicultural Division created the Oklahoma Historical Black Towns Tours to showcase the state's rich African-American history and promote African-American tourism in Northeastern Oklahoma. The program promotes cultural diversity and the historical significance of black towns in the area, while highlighting the artistic and cultural impact that jazz played on the community.

The tour is marketed nationally to emphasize the unique phenomenon of the black towns and includes the towns of Taft, Rentisville, Clearview, Boley, Langston and Summit, as well as Muskogee. Other programs connected with the tour include the Multicultural Rodeo and the Historical Landmark Conference, featuring nationally renowned speakers. The tour was first developed in 1997 through a $50,000 grant from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

This program was featured in the 2004 City Showcase at NLC's Congress of Cities in Indianapolis.

Contact: Cassandra Gaines, director of cultural events 888-687-6137, ext. 25; cassytours@sbcglobal.net

Mullins, S. C., population: 5, 029

With the goal of becoming a day destination for tourism, Mullins embarked on a project to capitalize on its tobacco and railroad history.

The city restored an early twentieth century freight depot and in it opened the Mullins Tobacco and Farm Life Museum. Carolina Southern Railroad, which maintains an office at the depot, restored an old engine and passenger car, which are displayed at the museum. The old depot also houses a farmers' market.

Contact: J. Wayne George 843-464-9583

Saltville, Va., population: 2,204

Saltville capitalizes on its rich and unusual history to lure visitors.

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