Photo by Bob Kelly, West Chester

Community Resilience

The region's long-range plan, Connections, targets the region's core cities and older suburbs for renewal and revitalization, and advocates for increasing diversity as a way in which to ensure the region’s communities are resilient, inclusive, and vibrant. Communities that offer a variety of housing options, provide walking and bicycle trails, are accessible to transit, and evoke a strong sense of local identity are not only diverse, but they also enable greater resiliency during periods of crisis or change. 

In addition to its various studies and analyses, DVRPC also provides numerous tools for the region’s municipalities to invest in smart development, and to reinvest in their communities, in order to fortify and ensure the ongoing and future resiliency of the region.

Retail Districts Inventory

An update to DVRPC’s 2013 retail district inventory was completed in 2020, and the findings are presented in this webmap. The update provides a detailed look at the mix of uses found in 75 of the region’s downtowns, main streets, and retail districts, as well as the ability to compare both sets of findings for the 71 downtowns analyzed in 2013. 

As part of the original effort in 2013, DVRPC published a report on older suburban communities that highlighted elements commonly found among 71 successful suburban retail districts. Outlined within the report are short-and long-term strategies to help local officials revive older districts to further their economic development goals. 

Although an update to the 2013 report was not part of the 2020 scope of work, given that the strategies contained within the 2013 report remain relevant today, a report was published containing strategy recommendations for how to plan for a post-pandemic economic recovery. Strategies in this report focused more specifically on how traditional brick-and-mortar retail can better compete with the rise of online retail.

 5 Ps that Aren't Pandemic

The public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic quickly led to an economic crisis in the days that followed government-mandated stay-at-home orders. The impacts on the region’s retail and service industries, and subsequently the region’s downtowns, main streets, and retail districts, were felt immediately.  DVRPC adapted its work to address the immediate needs of the region, and launched its 5 Ps that Aren’t Pandemic social media campaign.

The Five Ps:

  1. Pursue funding from one or more of the many federal, state, county, or local programs aimed at helping small businesses weather the economic impacts of COVID-19.
  2. Pivot from your current business model and start manufacturing or selling goods, services, and products that are needed during the pandemic. 
  3. Pitch ideas on digital platforms to generate interest in and connect you with funding for future product lines or services.
  4. Promote your brand online via social media, and maintain a web page for your business in order to generate revenue via e-commerce. 
  5. Plan not only by developing a strategy to get your business through the current crisis, but also for how it will recover once society and the economy return to a new normal.

By leveraging social media, DVRPC was able to disseminate relevant information in the most effective and timely manner possible under the circumstances at that time. 

Following the campaign, a comprehensive report was published containing all of the tools and strategies promoted during the campaign. Additionally, a technical assistance webinar was held on June 23, 2020, that focused on the 5th P: Plan for recovery.

Location Analytics

As part of the 5 Ps that Aren’t Pandemic effort, DVRPC identified location analytics as a valuable tool for assisting the region's downtowns in planning for a post-pandemic economic recovery. To understand the pandemic’s impact on visits to and the trade areas of the region’s downtowns, location analytics were conducted for 75 of the region's downtowns. 

Below you will find interactive data dashboards comparing visits to and trade areas for each of the downtowns both before and during the pandemic. You can also download a data dashboard comparing 23 former Classic Towns here (please note that you will also need to download Tableau Reader in order to view the file).

Interactive Data Dashboards
Bucks County

Bristol Borough

Doylestown Borough

Langhorne Borough

Morrisville Borough

New Hope Borough

Newtown Borough

Quakertown Borough

Perkasie Borough

Sellersville Borough

Yardley Borough

Burlington County

Bordentown City

Burlington City

Maple Shade Township

Moorestown Township

Mount Holly Township

Riverside Township

Riverton Borough

Palmyra Borough

Camden County

Audubon Borough (Merchant Street)

Barrington Borough

Berlin Borough

Camden City (Federal Street)

Collingswood Borough

Haddon Township (Westmont)

Haddon Heights Borough

Haddonfield Borough

Laurel Springs Borough

Merchantville Borough

Chester County

Coatesville City

Downingtown Borough

Kennett Square Borough

Malvern Borough

Phoenixville Borough

West Chester Borough

Delaware County

Chester City (Avenue of the States)

Darby Borough

East Lansdowne Borough

Haverford Township (Brookline)

Haverford Township (Oakmont)

Lansdowne Borough

Marcus Hook Borough

Media Borough

Norwood Borough

Radnor Township (Wayne)

Ridley Park Borough

Swarthmore Borough

Upper Darby Township

Gloucester County

Gloucester City

Glassboro Borough

Harrison Township (Mullica Hill)

Paulsboro Borough

Pitman Borough

Swedesboro Borough

Wenonah Borough

Westville Borough

Woodbury City

Mercer County

Hightstown Borough

Princeton

Trenton (State Street)

Montgomery County

Ambler Borough

Cheltenham Township (Glenside)

Hatboro Borough

Jenkintown Borough

Lansdale Borough

Lower Merion Township (Ardmore)

Lower Merion Township (Bryn Mawr)

Lower Merion Township (Haverford)

Narberth Borough

Norristown Borough

Souderton Borough

Philadelphia County

52nd Street

Diverse Downtowns

DVRPC combined data from both the retail district inventory update and location analytics efforts to determine what characteristics were common amongst downtowns where the visitor counts and trade areas were less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial analysis was conducted in the winter of 2020, and updated with more current location analytics data in the fall of 2021. 

In general, both of these analyses found that economically, physically, and socially diverse downtowns were typically more resilient than downtowns that were less diverse.

2020 Initial Analysis

Three time periods were analyzed as part of the initial effort:

  1. Pre-COVID-19: August 1, 2018 – March 12, 2020
  2. Shutdown: March 13 – June 15, 2020
  3. Reopening: June 16 – October 31, 2020

As part of this initial analysis, all 75 downtowns were assigned a Diversity Score and a Pandemic Impact Score on scales of 1—100, with one being the most diverse and least impacted.

Characteristics of the Least Impacted Downtowns

  1. Development: Recent mixed-use, residential, and retail developments within the downtowns increased diversity as well as resiliency.
  2. Diversity: Downtowns with diverse built environments, demographics, local economies, mix of uses, and transportation options, were less impacted.
  3. People: Diverse and permanent residential populations located within the downtowns provided retailers with customers even as people stayed close to home.
  4. Trails: Existing Circuit Trails connected downtowns with open space and enabled alternative modes of transportation.
  5. Walkability: Historic downtowns with more pedestrian-friendly built environments had greater resiliency.

The scores for the ten least impacted downtowns were highlighted on social media, along with factsheets outlining each of the downtown’s characteristics, throughout the spring of 2021. All 75 scores and factsheets were emailed directly to the respective municipalities, and can be found below:

Diverse Downtowns Factsheets
Bucks County
Burlington County
Camden County

Chester County
Delaware County
Gloucester County

Mercer County
Montgomery County

Philadelphia County

2021 Updated Analysis

In addition to the time periods analyzed in the first effort, three additional time periods were analyzed as part of the update:

  1. Winter Wave: November 1, 2020 – March 12, 2021
  2. Vaccination: March 13 – June 15, 2021
  3. Delta Variant: June 16 – September 30, 2021

The findings from the update were more nuanced than the initial analysis, with different characteristics proven to be more or less beneficial during periods of high case counts and low mobility (e.g. Shutdown, Winter Wave, and Delta Variant) or periods of relatively low case counts and increased mobility (Reopening and Vaccination).

Characteristics of the Least Impacted Downtowns

  • Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket.

The initial analysis found that greater economic, environmental, and social diversity was related to increased resiliency in the region’s downtowns. The update confirmed that this remained true over the course of the pandemic. Diversity was consistently the number one attribute related to a lower pandemic impact.

  • Size Does Matter.

Bigger, more urban downtowns, those with larger residential and employment populations, as well as the total number of uses̵—civic, cultural, office, retail, and residential—were generally more resilient during the pandemic than smaller downtowns.

  • Those Boots ARE Made for Walking.

More walkable downtowns, those with fewer vehicles per household and higher WalkScores, were less impacted over the course of the pandemic. This was even more true during periods of high case counts.  

  • People are Social Butterflies.

Food and Beverage retail establishments, which includes restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and winery tasting rooms, contributed significantly to the overall resiliency of the region’s downtowns. As the share of these types of uses went up in a downtown, the pandemic impact went down. This remained true regardless of the period being analyzed.

  • A Little Retail Therapy Goes a Long Way.

As the number of retail uses, and retail’s share of all uses, increased in a downtown, the pandemic’s impact decreased. Additionally, downtowns that were able to attract consumers from beyond the community with a diverse mix of retail types were more resilient while reducing retail leakage. Of interest, the analysis also identified a correlation between greater hobby retail surplus and a lower pandemic impact.

  • E-Commerce and Downtowns: A Match Made in Heaven.

Prior to the pandemic, research found that a symbiotic relationship exists between brick-and-mortar retail establishments and their e-commerce presence. In other words, the two approaches to retail complement and reinforce one another. This relationship was termed the “Halo Effect.”

This analysis found that during the pandemic, downtowns where retail establishments had a greater digital presence (e.g. websites and/or social media accounts) were less impacted overall—especially during the periods of lower case counts—than the downtowns where fewer retail establishments had a website and/or social media account prior to the pandemic.

  • Different People Make the World Go Round.

Greater demographic diversity was linked with a lower overall pandemic impact. However, during periods of high case counts and low mobility, downtowns with larger Black and/or Hispanic populations were more resilient.

  • Transit Goes Both Ways.

Generally speaking, being a transit-oriented downtown—those that are within 1/2 mile of a rail station or trolley stop—had no impact on the overall resiliency of the downtown throughout the duration of the pandemic. However, during periods of high case counts, transit-oriented downtowns were less-impacted. Conversely, these downtowns observed less of a rebound during periods of lower case counts and increased mobility.

  • Vacancy Begat Vacancy.

High vacancy rates exacerbated the pandemic’s impact. Similarly, the impact increased as the share of Neighborhood Goods & Services or Civic uses in a downtown increased.

Photo Challenge Giveaway

In the summer of 2021, DVRPC is sponsored The #DiverseDowntowns Photo Challenge Giveaway as an opportunity to share what adds to the diversity and vibrancy of the region’s diverse downtowns and Greater Philadelphia as whole. 

The Challenge Giveaway was open to anyone 18 years of age or older. Prizes valued at $50 each were given away at the conclusion of the Challenge Giveaway, which ended on August 13, 2021. 

The Challenge Giveaway sought photos featuring subjects in six different categories:

  1. Local coffee roaster, craft brewery, distillery, restaurant, retail shop, or vineyard tasting room
  2. Historic buildings, landmarks, and sites
  3. Buses, trains, trolleys, stations or stops
  4. Located in one of the region’s Core Cities: Camden, Chester, Philadelphia, or Trenton
  5. Academic and cultural institutions (e.g. social clubs, colleges, religious organizations, etc.)
  6. Adapting downtown to COVID-19

A complete list of rules, restrictions, and requirements for the #DiverseDowntowns Photo Challenge Giveaway is available below:

Municipal Tools and Programs

Breaking Ground Conferences

Breaking Ground is a conference series that DVRPC holds every few years to highlight plan and project implementation throughout the region. The most recent conference was held virtually in May and June 2021; presentations and proceedings are available on the Breaking Ground webpage.

Brownfields / Greyfields

Connections 2045 prioritizes the reuse and cleanup of underutilized land in the region’s older suburbs and communities. Brownfields and greyfields offer communities the opportunity to diversify their economy and housing options.

Classic Towns of Greater Philadelphia

Classic Towns of Greater Philadelphia (CTGP) was a community branding and program that promoted the assets of living in the region's older communities and neighborhoods.

Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI)

TCDI provides grant funding for projects that focus on linking land use and transportation planning by:

  • Improving the overall character and quality of life;
  • Enhancing the existing transportation infrastructure capacity;
  • Promoting and encouraging the use of transit, bike, and pedestrian transportation modes;
  • Building capacity in our older suburbs and neighborhoods;
  • Reinforcing and implementing improvements in designated Centers; and
  • Protecting our environment.
Karen CilursoAssociate Director, Livable Communities
Air Quality Partnership
COVID-19 Resources
DVRPC News

190 N Independence Mall West, 8th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1520
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