tangent New Cumberland Borough


tan ·gent \ˈtan-jÉ’nt\ adjective

diverging from an original purpose or course

Summer time is a great time for movies, especially in Pennsylvania’s communities. Many offer outdoor movie experiences in parks or on church lawns and of course, there are our historic theatres like The Allen in Annville, The Majestic in Gettysburg, or the State Theatre in State College.

New Cumberland Borough is another such place, where you can catch a show at the West Shore Theatre or at various outdoor locations in the summer months. These entertainment options round out their downtown offerings that also include many eating establishments, a farmers market, a hardware store, frameries and galleries, antique and gift shops, and the Oxford Hall Celtic Shop.

tangent New Cumberland Borough

Admittedly, Oxford Hall is not the type of place you’ll find in every downtown. But New Cumberland is quite lucky to have this unique purveyor of all things authentically Irish. Part clothier, part jeweler, part snack shop, part tea room, Oxford Hall diverges from the norm.

Another tangential-type establishment is Ten Thousand Villages. Based in Akron, PA, those of us in Central PA are familiar with Ten Thousand Villages and their inventory of free trade goods from around the globe. (If you’re not familiar with them, visit http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/about-us/.) But while on vacation in Portsmouth, NH, I was struck as I walked by a beautiful Ten Thousand Villages store there as well. In fact, there are thirteen (13) Ten Thousand Villages stores in Pennsylvania alone. They have a presence in 41 US states and in Canada. And they offer a really interesting tangent in every community they’re in.

Tangential relationships are worth considering. How might it benefit your community to branch out? What wild tangent breaks the mold in your community?

distinctive Lewisburg


dis ·tinc ·tive \d-stngktv\ adjective

of a feature that helps to distinguish a person or thing

There are many elements that can help a downtown setting stand out and be remembered. Dedicated folks work hard to create, enhance, and protect these elements and in Pennsylvania, many have met with great success!

Creating distinction can be an effort that is large or small in scale. On the grand side, for 12 years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation sponsored its Dozen Distinctive Destinations program. This program honored communities that showcased the best practices for creating an authentic visitor experience. By combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes, and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization ”“ each of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations offer something truly unique. In each community, residents have joined together and taken action to protect their town’s character.” In Pennsylvania, Doylestown, West Chester, and Lititz were each selected for this honor.

distinctive Lewisburg

Successful distinction on a small scale has also found a home across Pennsylvania. And Lewisburg, PA is one of the best examples of that. I would be willing to bet that anyone who has spent any time in Lewisburg will make note of at least one thing ”“ the streetlights. More specifically, the three-globe lamp posts. Since 1912, these lights have been a feature in the downtown. Although truly historic and thought of as local landmarks, the classic elements are also an integral part of the modern day scene, adorning posters, various logos for local events, postcards, tote bags, gift certificates, and digital resources ”“ anything that is distinctively Lewisburg.

What are the distinctive features of your downtown and how can you capitalize on them, in large and small ways?

vibrant Bemus Point


vi ·brant /vÄ«brÉ’nt/ adjective

full of energy and enthusiasm, (of color) bright and striking

Community member: “We want our downtown to be vibrant.”

Planner: “What does it mean to be vibrant?”

If this dialogue seems somehow familiar, join the hundreds of other core communities who have begun a revitalization dialogue along these familiar lines. Vibrancy seems to be a hard word to comprehend for some planners, but a vastly desirable descriptor for the ideal downtown. Looking at the definition of the word vibrant seems to paint a pretty clear picture. It speaks directly to place-making, to “experience” environments, and to the essence of a community.

When visiting northwestern Pennsylvania, you are brought very close to the Chautauqua Lake region of New York, and specifically to the lovely, small, lakefront village of Bemus Point. Visit this community any weekend throughout the summer months and I challenge you to find a more apt descriptive word for this community. Concerts on the floating stage, boats coming and going, cars riding the ferry across the lake, and people waiting to eat dinner on the patios of the destination restaurants create a sense of high energy and enthusiasm.

vibrant Bemus Point

Stop by Bemus Point on a weekday (for coffee like I did) and the same description applies, but for other reasons. Even without the throngs of visitors and concert goers, the streets maintain vibrancy through dynamic color choices, bold landscape selections, and depth of character in each business.

Vibrancy is not defined by tourism, density, or population (at the last census, Bemus Point had a population of 340). It’s defined by character and attention to detail. It’s defined by the spirit of place that is conveyed every day to every person who travels your streets.

convivial Morristown NJ


con ·viv ·i ·al /kÉ’nˈvivÄ“É’l/ adjective

(of an atmosphere or event) friendly, lively, and enjoyable

Wouldn’t we all love to have people describe our community streets as convivial? Honestly, that is a bit rhetorical, but a question worth pondering.

It is important to use descriptive words when setting a vision for your community. And this process is often easy because we are trying to describe the way we want our towns perceived by others. These others may be tourists, community residents, members of the workforce – literally views from anyone other than our own personal views from our biased vantage point as community leaders.

Once you have listed several of these descriptive words, the planning process may lead to a discussion about what it means to be “lively” or “vibrant” or “jubilant.” And although it may be difficult to define some of these words in the context of your community streets, rest assured, you would know lively, vibrant, or jubilant if you saw it.

I know this because two weeks ago, I had lunch in Morristown, NJ and I saw convivial streets. Shortly after 12 noon, the streets were swarming with all different types of people from school groups to business people. Some people were exercising, some dining, some just enjoying the sunny midday hour out of the office.

Of course, I snapped a picture. And if you study the photo, and you jot down some of the physical elements of this scene, you will begin to define the answer to the difficult question of what “lively” or “vibrant” or “jubilant” translate to, in the built environment.

convivial Morristown NJ

Experiencing a space that exemplifies one of these words is invaluable. Building on Jane’s experience in New Hampshire, there is nothing wrong with using your travels (either for pleasure or business) to build your reference library to boost your revitalization efforts.

So next time you’re out and about and something catches your eye or captures your senses, snap a picture. Then return to it and begin to dissect it. What are the elements that contribute to the whole? What does convivial look like when played out on our streets?

zeal in Littleton NH


zeal \ ˈzēl \noun

strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something

Upon my return to the office from vacation, with a camera card full of photos from great downtowns in New Hampshire, talk turned to the similarities and differences between what we see and experience in Pennsylvania versus what I recently observed in the Granite State. Although New Hampshire definitely puts its own spin on things, many of the elements of great Pennsylvania communities were evident in the great New Hampshire communities as well.

This prompted a couple questions: 1) Is there anything new under the sun? and 2) Does that matter?

Of all the elements I captured in my photos, my favorite was definitely the Littleton Arts Umbrella project. I thought it was the most unique thing I had seen in a downtown in a long time and I knew I would share it through our blog. However, at the time I didn’t even know the installation had a name or anything about it other than I thought it was really cool. So, I turned to the internet to get some details.

zeal in Littleton NH

In addition to learning the name of the project, I also learned that “Main Street programs learn to ”˜steal with zeal’ when it comes to great ideas.” [see Little New Hampshire: Focus on the Arts, Main Street Now, Winter 2014 – http://www.golittleton.com/pdf/NMSC_Lttn_2014.pdf]

This particular idea, which I thought was so cool and so unique, was actually taken from Agueda, Portugal. ”¦ Go ahead, do a Google images search. ”¦ It’s worth it. ”¦ I’ll wait. ”¦

So, addressing question 1: was the idea unique or completely new? No. But question 2 asks, does it matter? And I say no! Littleton took a great idea and gave it their own unique spin. They took nothing away from Agueda, Portugal. If anything, they’ve given me a real desire to want to visit that community. And it has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Are there any downtown elements you’ve seen in another town that you’d like to make your own? Go ahead, flatter by imitation and “steal with zeal!”



Portsmouth safekeeping


safe ·keep ·ing \ˈsāf-ˈkÄ“-piÅ‹\   noun

the act of keeping something safe

What do you hold dear? Many of us would immediately think of family and friends, perhaps some long-held traditions, or even particular material possessions. Reflecting on what we hold most dear helps us to prioritize our daily lives and guide our life decisions.

Likewise, as downtown champions, it is equally important to reflect upon what we hold most dear in our downtowns. The leaders of Portsmouth, New Hampshire discovered this a very long time ago. In 1802, a devastating fire destroyed parts of their core downtown. And in 1806, it happened again. And in 1813, there was yet another wide-spread fire. So in 1814, Portsmouth enacted the Brick Act of 1814. Their intent was to institute mandatory safekeeping of their downtown architecture through the requirement of brick construction. And today, Portsmouth stands as an eclectic and vibrant downtown, built on brick.

Beyond the threat of fire and natural disasters, that may be unavoidable, what other threats can you protect against. What are the things that are most dear to your community? Have you investigated façade protection easements, zoning (see quaint), or sacred view-shed preservation? What deserves safekeeping in your community?

Portsmouth safekeeping

Hollidaysburg elan


élan \ ā-ˈläⁿ \ noun

vigorous spirit, energy, or enthusiasm

Many months ago, we had an idea. Let’s talk! Talk about downtowns, the elements that make them attractive, the unique quirks that make them memorable.

Downtown Hollidaysburg is such a downtown worth talking about. There is a nice mix of food establishments and retail. The pizza is worth a return trip and the drinks and desserts ”¦ well, for me they were worth a return trip in the same night! The center of town ”“ what is called “the square” in many communities ”“ is called “the diamond” in Hollidaysburg. Turning back a brick paved pedestrian alley, you find an old livery converted into employee parking ”“ covered parking mind you, a true bonus during snowy Hollidaysburg winters. Strolling along Main Street, store displays catch your eye and even invade the sidewalks in inventive ways.

Hollidaysburg elan    Hollidaysburg elan

And all of this is attractive and quirky and memorable. But what is most attractive and quirky and memorable are the people of Hollidaysburg. On a Sunday evening, as part of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center Conference, it was the shop owners that were most worth talking about in Hollidaysburg. Don’t misunderstand, the subs, pizza, and wings were top-notch. I already expressed my affinity for the desserts and I saw many more in our group sneaking seconds or taking to-go bags along with them. And to-go bags were carefully balanced with shopping bags from various retailers.

But I’m not sure if the experience would have been the same without the folks from Dutch Chocolates who took time to talk lovingly about their offerings; without Kevin Charles who staged many impromptu fashion shows at his store; without the proprietor of The Black Dog Café who joined her patrons in lively conversation both in the café and on the sidewalk; without the folks from Allegheny Coffee & Penn Street Pit Shop who quickly and graciously pulled together vegetarian versions of their delicious fare.

Bricks and mortar can do a lot for a downtown but the élan found in Hollidaysburg was the defining characteristic of this community. As we all continue our work to enhance Pennsylvania’s core communities, let’s always remember the people behind the facades. They can make all the difference.

Bedford malleable


mal ·lea ·ble  \ma-lÄ“-É’-bÉ’l \ adjective

capable of being altered or controlled by outside forces or influences, having a capacity for adaptive  change

The ability to change is paramount to sustaining a thriving and vibrant community. Outside forces will continue to exist, exert pressure, and, by default, require changes in our towns. Inside forces are also constantly at work. Policy changes, improvement projects, and even changes in personnel and personalities apply their own pressure and necessitate change as well. Heraclitus was right ~ the only constant is change!

With that said, what is really at issue is how we deal with the changes that are bound to come our way. There are countless stories of stores closing, industries leaving, or interchange development occurring. Your ability to understand the forces that drive those changes and their potential ancillary benefits can mean the difference between long term vibrancy and short term decay.

Visiting Bedford, PA, you find yourself in a community that has met the challenges change has brought time and again. The history of Bedford is rich and dates back to the earlier 1700s. The malleable nature of this community has carried it through the centuries to today. Stopping by on a Wednesday in June, you find yourself in the midst of bustling sidewalks, locals on the way to the farmers market and vacationers on their way to Cove Creek or any of the other great establishments.

But first, you need to park. Even on market day, some on-street parking is available. Finding a space isn’t too difficult but plugging the meters is ”¦ delightfully impossible. ”¦ Why? Bedford wanted to make a truly welcoming gesture and instituted a new policy ”“ free parking in the downtown. The policy was easy to implement but it left a charming streetscape with distinctive ”“ and now useless ”“ parking meters every 23 feet. Removing the meters was an option. A costly option. A time-consuming option. An inelegant option.

Bedford malleable

The solution arrived at in Bedford was none of the above. Instead, the community created a way to accept the change and enhance the streetscape at the same time. This positive chain-reaction started with a policy change and ended with an unexpectedly vibrant streetscape enhancement.

Next time you are faced with change in your community, look for ways to “plus” the idea. Push to be malleable and do so with some decorum and maybe even a little charm.



des ·ti ·na ·tion   \des-tuh-ney-shuhn\ adjective – noting an attraction or event that people are willing to travel a long distance to get to, either because it is very good or distinctive or because it is located in a popular and interesting place

Los Angeles, CA ”“ Summer 2011

“Meet me at Third & Fairfax!”

If you happen to be attending a taping of  The Price is Right  at the CBS studios, or shopping at the American Girl Place, meeting at Third & Fairfax in West LA is a short walk. For the rest of us east coasters, it’s a little longer commute.

In either case, whether you’re close by or far away, the LA Farmer’s Market represents the very definition of destination. First, it’s very good. I know, that may sound simple, but being very good is really complex, not at all simple. Just being consistently very good can be difficult. But here, the donuts, the crepes, the fresh produce; they all add to the overall quality of experience at the market.


The juxtaposition of new and old also adds flavor and texture to the experience, from the historic cracked asphalt and iconic clock tower, to the trendy furniture and trendier smoothie bar. Its location is interesting and popular. It is near Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The Grove shopping district is next door which is new and shiny and modern, but adds value and attracts people to the area. If you have the occasion to visit southern California, by all means, meet up at Third & Fairfax, you’ll surely feel the sense of place that great places emanate.

As we wrap up our month of vacation destinations, let’s not forget that there are many couples, families, tour groups, individuals, and other visitors that make your community a stop on their vacations. Presumably, there are destination experiences, buildings, sites, or places in your community that draw them to you. Make sure that your destinations continue to exemplify the very elements that define the word.

Be distinctive.

Be very good. Consistently very good.

Be the place that others are willing to travel a long distance to get to.

Be a destination!



or ·na ·ment  \ˈor-nÉ’-mÉ’nt\ noun – a small, fancy object that is put on something else to make it more attractive; a way to make something look more attractive and less plain

Las Vegas, NV ”“ Summer 2011

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. From a design standpoint, that is most certainly not true. Quite the contrary, what happens in Vegas should travel east to our core communities. In the 70’s Vegas was the unlikely subject of a fairly well known research project conducted by renowned architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. As the late 80’s and early 90’s arrived, Vegas was once again being studied for the revolutionary resort developments of Steve Wynn, and finally, in the 2000’s, all eyes were on Sin City as a veritable pantheon of designers created City Center for MGM Resorts. The design and planning sensibilities ingrained in southern Nevada can offer lessons for any community yearning for a special experience in their downtown.

As you walk South Las Vegas Boulevard from Sands Avenue to Tropicana Avenue, you will be inundated with the neon jungle that is “the Strip,” but step inside any of these properties, and design master class unfolds before your very eyes. Every aspect of a Las Vegas casino is designed. The carpet pattern, the interior landscape, the furniture, the signage, the windows, the pools, the canopies, the railings, and even the aroma hanging in the air conditioned lobby, all carefully considered and designed. At their roots, each element serves a purpose, but does so with an appropriate amount of ornamentation added.


This patio at The Wynn is a fine example of the power of ornaments in the public realm. The railing is necessary, it keeps patrons from tumbling into the water, but it is executed with flair and elegance. Similarly, the supports for the umbrellas and even the fabric itself have subtle details that transport the guest and enhance the experience (of eating pizza and gelato here for lunch).

There is always an opportunity to add a bit more detail to your physical environment, to fancy it up a bit. Find a way to bring a little Vegas back home and notice the impact it can have on the sense of place and the experience for your residents and visitors.