Downtown Salisbury honored as one of America’s 10 Great Neighborhoods

Downtown Salisbury has been named one of “10 Great Neighborhoods” for 2012 by the American Planning Association through its program, Great Places in America. APA’s flagship program celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. The only other Southern cities honored were Memphis and Baton Rouge, La.

Joe Morris, Salisbury’s director of community planning services, attributes the city’s success to planning efforts and policies that focus on “historic preservation, community appearance, sign control and urban design.” Together, the efforts have evolved into a shared vision for the city among residents, professionals and volunteers working on downtown Salisbury.  Morris stressed that the town’s successes have resulted from of a set of strategies put into place over time, “to communicate the direction that we wanted the downtown to take.”

Great Places in America evaluates communities from across the country to arrive at each year’s Top Ten. Basic requirements include being at least 10 years old and having a definable sense of boundary. Sizes and types of places evaluated included urban, small village, downtown, or suburban areas. The neighborhoods honored exemplify unique and exceptional features in architecture, accessibility, functionality, local character and environmental quality.

Salisbury, established in 1753, is the county seat of Rowan County, northeast of Charlotte. It takes pride in its historic roots, with 10 National Register historic districts and numerous individual properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town remained vibrant through the decline of the textile industry by maintaining its historic character and promoting agri-tourism and an authentic North Carolina experience through culture, arts, and food – all rooted in its picturesque setting. Over the past three decades the town has seen “$117 million in investments, a thousand new jobs, nearly 300 restored or renovated buildings and numerous awards,” according to the APA press release. “Achieving these outcomes has involved unwavering community pride, major gifts by several local philanthropists, and sustained efforts by city officials, downtown businesses, and volunteers who organized the Historic Salisbury Foundation in 1972.”

Specific criteria for garnering the Great Neighborhood title included:
  • Having a variety of functional attributes that contribute to a resident's day-to-day living (i.e. residential, commercial, or mixed-uses).
  • Accommodating multi-modal transportation (i.e. pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers).
  • Having visually interesting design and architectural features.
  • Encouraging human contact and social activities.
  • Promoting community involvement and maintaining a secure environment.
  • Promoting sustainability and responding to climatic demands.
  • Having a memorable character

Two major decisions have been key in downtown Salisbury’s resilience. The town successfully sought to become a “Main Street” community, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Being named a “Main Street” community is about more than brick-paved roads and flower pots. It is a comprehensive road map for growth in downtowns through economic development.  It uses a four-point approach – organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring – to revitalize downtowns by leveraging local assets (read more about the Main Street program). Secondly, through the organization of Downtown Salisbury, Inc., a downtown historic district was established with design review by a local historic preservation commission. 

Salisbury, with its charming and sophisticated downtown, is not only about the past. Morris said he is optimistic about the community’s future. “We have built an economic base that is sustainable, in the sense that it is a function of the adaptive reuse that we currently have in our downtown building stock,” Morris said, “as well as the integration of new construction projects.” Some of the upcoming projects for downtown include relocating and building a permanent farmers market, the new Rowan-Salisbury School Administrative Office and continued efforts to adapt old buildings to new uses. A notable project in the works is for the Empire Hotel, a 102,000-square-foot building being explored for mixed-use retail and housing, or perhaps a downtown campus for one of the several colleges in the area.

The award is an affirmation of hard work by a lot of people. Salisbury is being compared to other places on the Top 10 list that are popular vacation destinations. “To be on that list is an incredible accomplishment for Salisbury, North Carolina,” said Morris.  “We’re very proud of that.”