This month, the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRDTM) team ventured out from the East Coast to the Delta, the Sonoran desert, and the high plains to meet our four 2018 selected communities. Since 2012, we have supported 19 workshops, bringing together local leaders and residents, non-for-profits, federal partners, state officials, and robust, multidisciplinary resource teams, to brainstorm strategies for addressing the communities’ most critical design challenges. This year’s workshops focus on Main Street revitalization, multimodal transportation, and healthy living by design: three distinct topic areas that have proven to be especially relevant to rural towns in the United States. With this in mind, our four communities seek to leverage their unique local and regional, entrepreneurial initiatives and cultural assets – the life forces of healthy economies.
Our journey kicked off in Greenville, MS, the Hot Tamale Capital of the World, a town of 34,000, where you can watch the sunset from the levee along the mighty Mississippi River. Greenville was historically a cultural, intellectual, and business center of the American South. Now poised to redefine the face of its downtown, the city is eager – and therefore ripe – to restore its role as a leader in the Delta, arguably the most neglected region in the United States.
"Placemaking is important to our work in Greenville, Miss., as it continues to create a sense of place, community pride and economic resiliency in the Mississippi Delta. The time is right for a renaissance in Greenville… by leveraging the community’s cultural assets we can rebuild Greenville in an equitable way for the people who live there." - Suzanne Anarde, LISC Vice President and Rural LISC Director.
Greenville produces two nationally renowned music and food culture events every year, anticipates the construction of a brand new Federal Courthouse, and is beginning to see the first seeds of private development and community-oriented businesses in its downtown, which for decades has suffered from high vacancies and delapitated buildings. Working with our partners and three local community development corporations, our goal is to amplify this new energy, and to encourage and support locally-grown businesses and accessible maker spaces alongside inclusive and welcoming public spaces already in the pipeline.
Tuttle – population 80 – marks our first foray into the great state of North Dakota, and has already proven that size doesn’t matter. Our local team, led by regional organization Strengthen ND, is nearly finished renovations on the old school building that is slated to become a regional asset as the Tuttle Rural Innovation Center (TRIC). With a population aging in place, Tuttle and its neighbors are seeking to build their local economy in a nontraditional way; vacant land and progressive agricultural approaches provide fertile ground for an economy that is based in community-oriented and environmentally sustainable farming, arts, and creativity. Through the CIRD workshop, Strengthen ND invites the regional community to build the vision for programming and design of the TRIC site, to explore how it can develop shared holistic local food systems, and to discuss how it might actively welcome Americans – new and old – to join forces in creating a bright and healthy future.
“Not only will this workshop directly support our work in Tuttle, but it will also help us distill CIRD’s philosophy and tools to our partners statewide.” - Megan Laudenschlager, Executive Director of Strengthen ND.
Next stop: Valentine, heart of the Sandhills. Two years after our work in Lincoln, Nebraska, we return to the state’s windswept grassy plains, thanks to the positive energy that traveled through the grapevine from our previous partners at the Lincoln and Lancaster County Planning departments, the University of Nebraska, and communities in and around Lincoln who shared their excitement with other towns around the state at our CIRD workshop back in 2015. With a population of just under 3,000, Valentine may be a small town, but boasts “big adventure” along the kayak-centric Niobara River. The town essentially functions as the retail, service, and industrial center for nearby ranches, farms, towns, and the Rosebud Reservation.
On its trajectory to establishing its regional significance as a haven for creative industry and innovation, Valentine is only a few years away from a complete redesign and overhaul of Main Street – a seven-block stretch of State Highway 83 – led by the Nebraska Department of Roads. We are grateful to have arrived in Valentine at this tipping point, to help our local partners generate and translate community visions that will guide the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s plans for Main Street.
“The timing could not have been better [to host a workshop in Valentine], as a renovation of Main Street is planned by the department of roads in 2021. We are hoping to utilize Main Street to bring the community closer together." - Mike Burge, Valentine Economic Development Director.
Our road trip came to a close in Las Vegas, NM. The Gallinas River was once the town’s lifeline, its banks lined with farms, pastures, businesses, and homesteads. As industry began to grow with tanneries, manufacturing plants, and petroleum suppliers, the river’s course was straightened to make way for a railway spur, causing banks to be degraded, trees to be removed, and the river’s capacity to support fish, wildlife, and the people who relied on it to diminish drastically. While the railroad was eventually abandoned, the scars left by industry are irreversible. Nevertheless, Las Vegas still considers the river to be the lifeline of its culture, heritage, and modern way of life, most prominently seen by the intricate acequia system, a community-built and -operated irrigation network that serves the entire town.
Our partners from the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance, the City of Las Vegas, Mainstreet de Las Vegas, and West Las Vegas City Schools are keen to gather community members in developing a vision for how to nurture the longstanding relationship between the river and its people, including the design of recreational activities, trails, and landscaping that will honor the river’s legacy, opening the floodgates to cultural, economic, and environmental vitality and flow.
“With help from CIRD, we are confident that the Gallinas River Park can become a vibrant centerpiece for our town, honoring both our ecological and cultural heritage.” – Lea Knutson, Executive Director of the HPWA.
These four towns – Greenville, Tuttle, Valentine, and Las Vegas – are emblematic of a diverse and motivated rural America that CIRD is excited to support through the end of 2018. Stay tuned this fall, as each of our local partners continues to work with the CIRD team in planning local public workshops that aim to galvanize civic initiative and spur new and creative ideas. This year’s collaborations build upon and further develop the knowledge accrued through years of experience, connecting passionate host communities with an ever-widening network of rural leaders, visionaries, and innovative thinkers.
This post was originally published on the CIRD website.