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Author: Main street districts are crucial

By April Wilkerson
Dolan Media Newswires

Oklahoma City (AP) — Before this century is over, according to author Christopher Steiner, main street districts across America will be far more than a choice of social sensibility or nostalgia — they will be imperative.

Higher costs and lower supply for energy will drive people back to the infrastructure and neighborhoods that have stood the test of time, said Steiner, author of “$20 per Gallon.”

Keep the dedication to those areas strong, he said, because people soon will realize their need for them even more.

“We will have a far easier time adjusting to a future of scarce energy resources if we can depend on the infrastructure of the past,” Steiner told participants at the National Main Streets Conference Monday. “Its survival is paramount. Being an advocate of history and an advocate of using old infrastructure is not only about saving stately old buildings. It’s about ensuring that when America needs it the most, it can turn back to the economic resources it built long ago.î”

Several hundred supporters and staff members from Main Street programs across the nation are in Oklahoma City this week for the annual Main Street conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Main Street programs across the nation have struggled over the past year as money for them has become tighter, Steiner said, but their livelihood has never been so important.

Higher energy prices will be the most powerful force of the 21st century, he said, and people will no longer be financially able to drive or fly long distances for work, school, entertainment or nourishment. When fuel accounts for 60 percent of an airlineís operating costs, high-speed railway will rise, Steiner said. Those railway stations will be found where they’ve always been — at the center of town.

David Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Main Street supporters should be talking to their city councils about the ability of historic preservation to prime the economic pump. Many Main Street rehabilitation projects are accomplished using the federal historic tax credit.

The Center for Urban Policy at Rutgers University recently released the first independent study of the economic effect of the tax credit. The Rutgers study also found that, since 2002, about two-thirds of all historic tax credit projects have taken place in low-income areas, right where the investment is needed, Brown said. Three-fourths of the economic effect of the rehabilitation stays in the local community and state.

“This investment helps jump-start local communities,” he said.

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