Quint Studer writes on Strong Towns that “character counts” when seeking to create or conserve a sense of place in your community:

The less you look like everyone else and the more you look like yourself, the better off you’ll be. In fact, creating a distinctive sense of place is your competitive advantage. When a community’s leaders keep their focus on creating a unique place that people want to be, the local economy tends to thrive. Businesses want to move in. Young people don’t have to leave to find jobs. The best talent flocks to such communities.

When you cultivate a sense of place, not only will citizens spend their dollars at home, you’ll attract tourists as well. They’ll have a good time. And because you’re giving them something to talk about, they’ll come back—and they’ll generate great word of mouth that makes others want to visit, too.

It’s obvious when a community has created a strong sense of place. They know who they are and are always telling their story. They’re authentic. They’re warm and welcoming. They’re quirky and colorful. They have a sense of energy and life that you can feel when you walk around. So how do you create that? Here are a few tips: …

Take a good hard look at your downtown. How can you make it more vibrant? Is it walkable? Is there a great intersection that residents and visitors perceive as the center of life and activity in your downtown? Are there plenty of great places to eat and shop? Are there plenty of things to do, day and night? Are there cool living spaces to attract both young people and empty nesters? …

Know your story and tell it in a meaningful way. How can you immerse people in the experience of what makes your town unique? Take a cue from other towns that have done this. Hershey, PA, is known for the Hershey Company, and it has built its whole identity on a “chocolate” theme. There’s even a candy-themed amusement park, and the downtown streetlights are in the shape of Hershey’s Kisses. What is your town known for? Maybe it’s a crop like apples or blackberries, or a product like furniture, or a famous singer or historical figure. …

Assess what you have. What can you preserve instead of rebuilding? Are there old buildings that could be repurposed? People love to work, eat, shop, and stay in renovated factories and warehouses. Old buildings have a sense of character that’s hard to replicate. …

Remember that little things mean a lot. One of the best things I’ve learned from Strong Towns’ president, Chuck Marohn, is that small fixes can make a big difference. Just like a fresh coat of paint makes a home look new again, planting some trees or repairing a dilapidated landmark can have a huge impact on how your community looks. Green and clean matter. And first impressions count, so make sure your community has a good “front door” like a gateway or attractive sign to welcome visitors.

I took the photo that accompanies this excerpt in Georgetown on my way to work earlier this week. It’s a simple enough building, but it’s well cared for and it’s such a distinctive sort of blue. This scene captures what it’s like for a traditional sort of architecture to nonetheless stand apart without bombast and without disrespecting the experience of the place.