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Resources for Illinois Communities

CGS works with downtown leaders to revitalize struggling downtowns and make strong downtowns even stronger.  We recognize that a balance of retail, office, residential, institutional, recreational and other uses is needed to create sustainable 24 hour community centers.  Through training, research, conferences, and community specific technical assistance, CGS staff shares the resources of NIU and our network of experts with community leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  A variety of resources can be found on this page, including upcoming events, material from past workshops, examples of best practices, models and templates for local projects, and sources for data and information.

For additional resources, visit the Great Downtowns Growing Cities Toolbox

Great Downtowns Growing Cities: A New Downtown Initiative for Illinois

Downtowns are increasingly important as people decide where to live, work, visit and invest. Great Downtowns Growing Cities (GDGC) is a new statewide initiative that will provide Illinois communities with technical assistance, training, access to new ideas, and opportunities to collaborate. GDGC is community driven and will be responsive to local interests, challenges and opportunities. Community partners are essential to creating an effective and sustainable program.  

    Learn more about Great Downtowns Growing Cities
    Tell us what you think. Would your community like to participate? Please take this survey.


NEW!   Findings on Downtowns from Survey of Illinois Mayors

 NEW!   Downtown and the Aging Population

The number of people age 55 and older is projected to increase quickly in the coming decades.  In many communities, they may become the single largest age group.  Older people, whether they are referred to as Baby Boomers, senior citizens, retirees, or something else, are a source of residents, visitors, and business owners.  They are often active volunteers and public officials.  Often they are interested in downtown as a convenient place to live;  a center for the arts, culture and entertainment; and  a community center for socializing, accessing public institutions, and receiving services.  Communities that meet the needs of this age group will be positioned to benefit from their growing numbers, however they must also be prepared to meet the needs of older residents as they move into the oldest, less independent age groups. The resources below provide information on how your community can be ready and benefit from an aging population.


·       Demographic Shifts: Planning for a Diverse Region, Prepared by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

·        AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities:  A self-service toolkit to prepare your community to welcome an older population

·        AARP Livability Index: This online tool  enables you to check how well your community meets the needs of older residents, and also scores your community on many features of interest to other age groups.

·        Beyond millennials: Valuing older adults’ participation in innovation districts, by Jessica A. Lee for Brookings, March 22, 2017.

·        How Big a Boost Do Working Seniors Give the Economy?  PBS Newshour.

NEW!   Emergence and Growth of Community Supported Enterprises

Local development agencies organize groups of residents to invest in business ventures commonly known as Community Supported Enterprises or Businesses. These ventures are often motivated by the potential loss of a grocery store, restaurant, or other establishment considered vital to quality of life in the community. Motivated by a need to maintain or build social capital, a group of residents pool their investments to purchase a building or on-going establishment and then hire an operator to manage the business with returns paid to the organizing agency. These agencies may be a nonprofit, LLC, Cooperative or other type of organization. Emergence and Support of Community Supported Enterprises is a North Central Regional Center for Rural Development funded project that examines how CSEs are organized and operate in several states. It involves a collaborative effort between the Center for Governmental Studies, University of Wisconsin Extensive, and Michigan State Extension.

Executive Summary| Full Report

The Back to the City Movement: Will It Help Illinois' Smaller Cities?

This CGS Policy Profile outlines what your small city can do to capture growth in residents, businesses and revenue generated by renewed interest in urban lifestyles. Read it here.

Training and Events

CGS regularly offers workshops for local downtown development organization staff and volunteers, city staff and officials, economic development professionals, chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs, students, and others interested in downtown revitalization.  The workshops are held around the state throughout the year.  Click on the upcoming events below for information on topics, dates, and locations.  For information on past workshops, click on the past events below to read about the workshop and download material from the workshop. Workshops often sell out so advance registration is recommended.


  New Perspectives on Growing Local Economies
  April 3, 2017 - DeKalb IL

Conference Overview (pdf); Conference Program (pdf); Speaker Bios (pdf); Illinois Tourism Presentation (pdf); Tangled Roots Presentation (pdf); Great Downtowns Growing Cities Report (pdf); An Orange Moon Presentation (video)


The Creative Economy and Downtown Workshop
Feb. 26, 2016 - DeKalb IL

Growing Your Farmers Market Workshop

Jan. 29, 2016 - DeKalb IL

Taking the Next Step: Nonprofits as Developers, Landlords and Business Owners
April 21, 2015, Sterling, IL
Wednesday, April 29, 2015, Mount Vernon, IL

Project Development from Start to Finish
Sept. 23, 2014, Macomb, IL

Closing the Deal:  Bringing New Businesses to Your Downtown
Jan. 16, 2014, Dwight, IL
Jan. 27, 2014, Alton, IL

Growing the Businesses You Have:  Business Retention Strategies 
March 11, 2014, Jacksonville, IL
Feb. 6, 2014, Libertyville, IL

Great Downtowns Growing Cities Toolbox

Local Great Downtowns Growing Cities organizations carry out a wide range of programs and projects requiring specialized knowledge and resources.  This toolbox contains tools that downtown development executive directors and volunteers can use to assist downtown businesses, carry out downtown improvement projects, provide information for residents and visitors and run their own organizations effectively.  Some of the tools can be downloaded and posted on local websites.  Others can be linked to local websites.  New tools will be added over time. Visit the Great Downtowns Growing Cities Toolbox.  

Illinois Main Street

Communities  - Contact Information

Need to reach a local Main Street organization?  Find contacts for every Illinois Main Street organization here.


These brochures can explain the Downtown Development Approach to the general public, city officials, potential donors and others. There are three different brochures to choose from, depending on the audience.

Public Brochure (Red PDF)
Future Main Street Communities Brochure (Blue PDF)
Main Street Supporters Brochure (Green PDF)

Download the brochures you need. Print them two-sided and fold in half length-wise. You may want to attach a business card with local contact information.

Additional information on the Main Street program is available at



For additional information about Great Downtowns Growing Cities, please contact:

Mim Evans
Research Associate
Center for Governmental Studies, NIU

Norman Walzer
Senior Research Scholar
Center for Governmental Studies, NIU


Conference Presentations