Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)


Business Administration

First Advisor

Christy Ashley


The purpose of this dissertation was to identify practices that ensure decisions about soft infrastructure investments in downtown districts of small-medium sized cities in America have their desired impact on the economy and the community. Many American cities and towns recognize the need to successfully revitalize downtown centers. While there is evidence that soft infrastructure like landscaping, pedestrian walkways, benches, and lighting can impact businesses in downtown districts, investments in soft infrastructure in downtown districts do not always have the desired economic impact. One possible reason for the mixed results is small and medium sized cities may not have formal processes in place to engage stakeholders.

The impact of strategic investments into the built environment of business zones are the result of many interrelated variables that are difficult to capture using a single research method. The dissertation researched characteristics of downtown investments into the built environment across four U.S. cities that made soft infrastructure investments in downtown districts that were successful (4) or failed (1, where one city was had two attempts). The dissertation also introduced ChatGPT to capture an electronic voice for stakeholders that may not have otherwise had input into the decision-making process.

To build on the findings and the relevant literature, the research used community interaction field theory as a theoretical lens to conduct a case study on soft infrastructure investments in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The case study method was used to provide a deeper understanding of the community interaction field theory approach by examining its use in context. Community interaction theory encourages stakeholder involvement by encouraging dialog, shared knowledge, and shared ideas. It is proposed as an approach in the case study of downtown East Greenwich, RI, because the relationships between people are very important in driving outcomes that help communities and economies thrive. The dissertation applied a process that was used in other community-related decision-making contexts to incorporate current views of the town’s residents, merchants, property owners, and business and political leaders as part of a case study of East Greenwich, RI.

The findings are based upon a survey, one-on-one interviews, and four focus group meetings conducted during spring 2023 among local stakeholders in East Greenwich. It leveraged a subjectivist paradigm to get the point of view of policy makers and entrepreneurs. Doing so allowed the research to draw on existing knowledge and reconsider the lenses through which we typically perceive decisions about downtown infrastructure (Flick, 2014).

The results showed that the approach recommended in community interaction field theory can provide valuable information that may improve the success of community projects, including downtown revitalization investments in soft infrastructure. In the specific case of East Greenwich, RI, it revealed new insights that can be included in the design process and helped avoid a top-down decision-making process that may have lacked community buy-in. The approach provides useful feedback to the town and provide valuable lessons for other small towns and cities striving to revitalize their downtown districts. It recognizes that there is not a fixed formula for downtown revitalization and provides scaffolding that should increase the likelihood of successful outcomes as it democratizes downtown revitalization decision-making processes.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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