Welcome to the second round of our third annual Strongest Town Competition! 8 towns are facing off right now and 4 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes.

We invite you to view the photos and descriptions that representatives from these two towns submitted to showcase their economic strength and resilience. Voting closes at 12pm CT on Friday, March 16.


Kent, Ohio

Entry submitted by: Dave Ruller - City Manager, James Bowling - City Engineer, and Harrison Wicks - Assistant to the City Manager

A River Runs Through It

Born along the Cuyahoga River, Kent was an early mill town that relied on the power of the river to turn the stone wheels of the first grist mills that brought pioneers to this Western Reserve community.  Today the power of the Cuyahoga River still turns the Kent economy in the form of paddles, bicycle wheels and outdoor enthusiasts who get a chance to enjoy one of only 14 rivers in the nation to be designated as an official American Heritage River.  Improving river quality, river access, and river recreational opportunities are cornerstones of Kent’s strategic priorities and Kent is proud of it’s role as the first community to show how removing the dams along the Cuyahoga River could lead to happier and healthier aquatic organisms, fish and people enjoying the river at greater rates than ever before.  Scores of volunteers keep the river clean, and the City has spent millions in new river trails, canoe/kayak liveries and portage areas.  

 Source: Kami Miller

Source: Kami Miller

The Esplanade

Looking west from the edge of campus under the arch into downtown Kent, the Esplanade is a new quarter mile pedestrain boulevard and great lawn that was constructed in conjunction with the revitalization of the downtown and has become a community exclamation for the impact of the renewed spirt of town-gown collaboration.  The Esplanade is a Kent version of old Route 66 and the Appalachian Trail —  physically, socially and culturally opening up the town gown frontier by reconnecting Kent’s downtown with the Kent State campus in a park-like setting that is full of surprises and amenities.  Stand in the middle and it’s 360 degrees of wow.  Sidewalks have a single-minded sense of purpose; getting you from point A to point B — which is why in Esplanade-speak, sidewalks are a good walk spoiled. The Esplanade with it’s poetry center, public art, benches and landscaped gardens is meant to appeal to the human need to stroll, absorb and contemplate.  The Esplanade will get you where you want to go, but like a life lesson, it will also show how the journey can be the best part of the trip.

 Source: Kent State University staff

Source: Kent State University staff

Main Street Kent

A photo of Kent fans enjoying one of the dozens of community events that Main Street Kent hosts each year in downtown Kent.  With festivals, restaurants, retail shops, museums, the Cuyahoga River, miles of hike and bike trails, abundant arts, and the 3rd largest public university in Ohio, Kent is a small town with a lot to offer.  Kent is what happens when you mix 29,000 students with bohemian baby boomers, Gen X’ers, empty nesters, retirees, young families, old families, blue collar, white collar, and tie-dyed no collars all in one place.

 Source: Harrison Wicks

Source: Harrison Wicks

A look down Kent’s “Acorn Alley”

In a world of strip malls and big box outlets, Kent’s downtown stands apart with its unique expression of commerce, culture and community persona.  Downtown Kent has places to remember, places where serendipitous things happen, places to tell stories about.  Its scale is right sized for the Kent lifestyle and it succeeds because of all the great small places found within it.  Those small, personalized spots – whether they are a favorite local shop, alley, restaurant, bar or plaza – are the essence of downtown Kent, revealing a surprisingly rich social and cultural life on a scale that puts people first.

 Source: Suzanne Stemnock

Source: Suzanne Stemnock

Fire Station

We live in a global world, connected by our economies, environment, technology, and our humanity.  Kent is committed to being a global “small town,” celebrating our most curious and interesting differences with just as much enthusiasm as our common joys and sorrows.   A truly welcoming community is more than a place of acceptance and tolerance; it’s a place that has figured out how to embrace and engage the contributions of each and every individual in a shared hometown culture that makes it uniquely Kent.    That takes a lot of thought and effort -- but that’s what Kent is all about, changing strangers into neighbors, and neighbors into friends.

 Source: Kami Miller

Source: Kami Miller


Niagara Falls, New York

Entry submitted by: Seth Piccirillo, Ryan Undercoffer, Christine Marino, and Jarrett Steffen

Jingle Falls

The Niagara Falls community got together in 2017 to create Jingle Falls USA, a three week winter event series that featured family events, an artisan market, street hockey tournament, candle light stroll, fireworks, live music and local food. Instead of bemoaning past outdoor festivals that no longer exist, a broad group of stakeholders collaborate to build a new event for a modern time. We look forward to an even stronger Jingle Falls USA in 2018.   

 Source: Peter Heuer Photography

Source: Peter Heuer Photography

Robert Moses Parkway Removal

Despite short-sighted human development, Niagara Falls always has a way to stay resilient and strong.  We are determined to confine the mistake of a car-centric built environment to only 50 years of our long and rich history.  Previously, getting to our downtown was basically a task only for a car, but now walking and biking among natural elements is far more feasible. The city’s progress in increasing our access to public green spaces, combined with the ongoing removal of the Robert Moses Parkway creates a synergy that benefits our community and our visitors exponentially more than even just a few years ago. By creating a lived-environment that celebrates the past, honors the present, strengthens the future, and balances with the given elements, we are and will be a strong town for generations to come. 

 Source: James Neiss, Niagara Gazette

Source: James Neiss, Niagara Gazette

Art Alley

At all times, we strive to make weaknesses into strengths. The spot where Art Alley now stands was once a building in a high-traffic area that burned down and became a vacant, overgrown lot. Two years ago, reclaiming this space as a fun and dynamic location to cultivate community was difficult to imagine. Now Art Alley is a place in itself that can be experienced year round and plays host to events throughout the spring and summer. Public art and place-making are relatively inexpensive practices that build off of existing infrastructure to create a better community atmosphere.  Further, Art Alley connects the Third Street commercial district to the neighborhoods behind it and available parking to create a walkable district with no increase in surface parking lots.

 Source: Peter Heuer Photography

Source: Peter Heuer Photography

South Junior Restoration

What was once a vacant and blighted building off the tax roll, headed towards a multi-million dollar demolition is now a community asset.  The Niagara City Lofts project is an example of the creativity that public and private investment can make to build up a strong town.  A recent case of long-standing blight in a low-income neighborhood, Niagara City Lofts is now home to 61 mixed-income units, 20,000 square feet of commercial space, and is generating new tax revenue on a parcel that had never in its history created tax revenue before.  It is easy to knock down buildings, but it takes real strength to build them up again. This $24 million investment is proof that preservation can be both responsible and profitable.

 Source: Seth Piccirillo, Niagara Falls Community Development

Source: Seth Piccirillo, Niagara Falls Community Development

School Crosswalks

In 2017, the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls School District, and the Cornell Cooperative went on a city-wide mission to paint crosswalks nearby our public schools.  We didn’t want cookie cutter patterns, so we enlisted the help of students themselves to design and create their own safety.  By calling attention to crosswalks and creating bike lanes and sharrows in our streets, we are creating a culture of multi-modal transportation that will truly make our residents connected with their city as they are on the move.

 Source: Seth Piccirillo, Niagara Falls Community Development

Source: Seth Piccirillo, Niagara Falls Community Development


Voting is now closed.