These are some of the most useful books about commercial district revitalization - for both beginners and experienced practitioners.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs (Vintage, 1992). If you have time to read only one book about downtowns and neighborhoods, this should be the one. Jacobs, who had no formal training in urban planning, brilliantly analyzed and summarized the characteristics of great neighborhoods and the factors that contribute to (and detract from) their success. Much of the national Main Street program's early philosophy was based on Jacobs's observations.

The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide, by Donovan Rypkema (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2005). Rypkema outlines 100 or so arguments to help civic leaders successfully make the case that preserving historic places is the best economic choice.

Revitalizing Main Street, edited by Andrea Dono (National Trust Main Street Center, 2009). This "Main Street revitalization 101" handbook not only offers essential information on the Main Street Approach to commercial district revitalization but also includes valuable anecdotes and case studies.

Buying Time for Heritage: How to Save an Endangered Historic Property, by Myrick Howard. Howard, the longtime president of Preservation North Carolina, outlines his organization's winning strategy for saving historic buildings through the use of revolving funds, protective covenants, and other essential tools.

Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl, by Richard Moe and Carter Wilkie (Henry Holt & Co., 1997). Moe (former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation) and Wilkie (a former White House speechwriter) make a compelling argument for preserving downtowns and neighborhoods.

The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler (Free Press, 1994).

The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup (APA Planners Press; updated edition, 2011). Shoup convincingly argues that, by offering free parking, cities have inadvertently contributed to auto dependence and sprawl development. He recommends (among other things) pricing parking flexibly so that there are always a few parking spaces available, then using the revenues to pay for district improvements and services.

Historic Preservation: An Introduction to its History, Principles, and Practice, 2nd ed., by Norman Tyler, Ted J. Lieibel, and Ilene R. Tyler (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009).

How to Study Public Life, by Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre.

The Image of the City, by Kevin Lynch (Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, 1960).

Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America, by William J. Murtagh (Wiley, 2005). Murtagh, the first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, tells the history of the historic preservation movement in the US and describes the values that shaped its foundation.

Saving Face: How Corporate Franchise Design Can Respect Community Character, by Ronald Lee Fleming (American Planning Association Planning Advisory Service Report Number 503/504).

Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, by Victor Dover and John Massengale.

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, by Jeff Speck (2013: North Point Press).

With Heritage So Rich, by Albert Rains and Laurance G Henderson, with a foreword by Lady Bird Johnson (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1966).

Economic Development Finance, by Karl F. Seidman (SAGE Publications, 2004). Seidman, an MIT urban planning professor, has put together a good primer on the roles of debt and equity in financing business and property development and on some of the tools communities can use to support and stimulate new development, from revolving funds to special assessment districts.

The Economics of Planning, by Eric Heikkila (Rutgers University, 2000).

Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity, by Michael Shuman.

Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It, by Amy Cortese.

Real Estate Development Finance and Investments by William Brueggeman and Jeffrey Fisher.

Mastering Real Estate Investment: Examples, Metrics and Case Studies, by Frank Gallinelli.

The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti.

The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works - and How It's Transforming the American Economy, by Charles Fishman.

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill

Main Street Festivals: Traditional and Unique Events on America's Main Streets, by Amanda West (National Trust for Historic Preservation).

Visual Merchandising and Display, by Martin Pegler (Fairchild Books, 2011).

The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy (Brookings Focus Book, 2013). 

Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses, by Stacy Mitchell. Mitchell, a senior analyst for the Institute for Local Self Reliance, delves into the net costs and benefits of big box stores and finds that communities almost always lose jobs, income, and quality of life when a big-box store comes to town.

The Rise of the Creative Class - Revisted: Revised and Expanded, by Richard Florida (Basic Books, 2014). Sociologist Richard Florida rocked the urban planning world when he first published his ground-breaking study of the factors contributing to economic growth in towns and cities in the 2000s. He found that cities with high concentrations of creative industries have stronger economies than those that don't - and that the people who work in creative industries are drawn to cities with older buildings and historic neighborhoods.

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck (North Point Press, 10th ed., 2010). Urbanists Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck describe how post-WWII suburban development drained economic life away from downtowns and argue for important changes in how we plan, preserve, and develop towns and cities.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Happier, and Healthier, by Edward L. Glaeser (Penguin Press, 2011). Glaeser argues that, by bringing together people with many different cultures, ideas, and experiences, cities are our best breeding grounds for new ideas and innovation. But he also argues that historic preservation regulations ...