Despite the recession, there are shovels at the ready and cranes in the air around Bloomington and Normal, Ill. Both cities—which form a single metropolitan statistical area—have revitalization projects under way, a local college is expanding, and transportation infrastructure is increasing, thanks to population growth. Most of the projects are receiving some form of government funding, including from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“In many cases, these projects will help keep people employed and spending their money locally,” says John Bishop Jr., a senior project architect at Bloomington-based Farnsworth Group. “[Some] also help to address deferred maintenance or expansion needed to accommodate infrastructure demands.”

The cities, surrounded by farmland, are pushing green design. In Normal, for instance, all new major projects must be LEED certified, says Brooke Weishaupt, director of communications and community relations for the Economic Development Council of Bloomington-Normal, noting that the city’s uptown renewal project is a pilot for the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system. “Normal is starting to set an example for other U.S. cities as a frontrunner of sustainability.”

That’s all good for local architects like Bishop. “Having a front row seat for [this] is interesting,” he says. “And the general commitment toward sustainability is pretty exciting.”


Bloomington: 74,975 residents, up 16% since 2000; Normal: 50,519, up 11% since 2000. Job growth: -2.9%, February 2008–February 2009.


2008 median home sale price: $177,194.


  • Low cost of living
  • Excellent education resources
  • Robust transportation infrastructure


  • Declining employment
  • Controlling sprawl
  • Economic uncertainty


“We are seeing a renewed commitment to the Normal and Bloomington city centers, from both a commercial and residential redevelopment perspective,” says Paula Pratt, director of business development for Bloomington’s BLDD Architects, adding, “We are also seeing an improved range of housing options.”