As the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks concentrated in remote rural towns this fall, the geographic isolation once thought to shield them from the pandemic swiftly transitioned into a severe disadvantage. Rural communities and the small businesses and residents within them faced overlapping, systemic challenges entering this crisis. Rural residents—particularly Black, Native American, and Latino or Hispanic residents—lack adequate access to health care and broadband connectivity, often have to travel long distances to obtain fresh food, and are disproportionately likely to struggle with poverty, debt, and isolation.

Yet, within rural communities, there are distinct place-based advantages that may help small businesses and residents mitigate some of these barriers.

In many cases, these place-based advantages are the result of pre-pandemic efforts to revitalize rural downtowns into walkable, mixed-use hubs that support a concentration of small businesses, increase housing stock, and leverage existing assets for community revitalization. Often in partnership with Main Street programs and other place governance organizations, these downtown revitalization efforts are street-level solutions rooted in local context that support small businesses and residents by leveraging proximity and increasing the dense clustering of public and private amenities downtown. As federal relief lags behind small business and resident needs, it is imperative to understand these homegrown strategies working to build resilience, as they will play an outsized role in recovery.

This brief examines how rural downtown revitalization strategies can support built environment and quality-of-life improvements that benefit underserved residents and small businesses amid this economic crisis and beyond. As part of a five-part series, it draws from on-the-ground research in three rural communities at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States to highlight key lessons learned for other rural communities and point to the policy and capacity-building supports needed to sustain, improve, and scale downtown revitalization strategies.

Read the full article about strategies for developing rural resilience during COVID-19 by Hanna Love and Mike Powe at Brookings.