Mainstreets: Activating Places for Engaged Community

Mainstreets, The Co Lab

Year: 2015

Mainstreets can be a powerful catalyst to create resilient and thriving communities

Co*lab made this toolkit after piloting a process called Mainstreets. Their approach and methods project is an accumulation of lessons learned from years of leading place-based community initiatives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and beyond.

Mainstreets once were vibrant hubs of villages, towns and cities where people connected, supported their local economy, and worked within walking or trolley distance of their home.

Post-war, car-centric city planning created swift changes as major highway development led to sprawl. Commercial activity and new housing supply moved to the outskirts of towns and cities. This drastically shifted the choices people made about where to live, work and play.

Download Mainstreets: Activating Places for Engaged Community

Modern planning practice now recognizes that sprawling towns and cities with empty cores are unsustainable economically, culturally, and environmentally. This issue is so intertwined with dependence on cars, that individuals and groups need support to make lasting change.

Mainstreets process is be a powerful aid to creating resilient and thriving places. It’s time to reinvest in and take responsibility for the core of our communities.

This toolkit is a guide to help you activate public spaces & under-used spaces. It can help you connect resources and opportunities, build community & change the culture of development in your neighbourhood.

You are encouraged to use the guide to support your work in making communities more resilient and collaborative. You are free to use and share the content, but you are asked to credit Mainstreets as a source. Send Co*lab a note about how you are using it and what could be added/ improved.

Who is this for?

  • This toolkit is for placemakers, changemakers, neighbourhood associations, business districts, city champions and engaged citizens.
  • Individuals and/or groups can use this Toolkit to make neighbourhood change.


1. Foundations: Preparing yourself and finding the people who care about your neighbourhood.
2. Listen & Generate: Discovering our stories, exploring where we are now, and envisioning our future.
3. Try It Out: Community Action Projects are small-scale prototypes that will enable your team to learn quickly, to create a sense of ‘what is possible’ in your neighbourhood, and can bring new public & political attention to your Mainstreets Project.
4. Demonstrate & Celebrate: This is the climax moment of your Mainstreets project. After months of working with the community, its time to celebrate, to share all the ideas and get the community spirit spilling into the streets. A vibrant Mainstreet is an expression of the values of the residents and the heart and soul of the community.