Residents in America’s small towns and rural communities care deeply about the future of their towns and value their uniqueness, strong sense of community, and special places. However, they increasingly face urgent challenges: How can they add jobs and support local businesses? How do they create a positive future for their kids? How can they honor and protect local character and history? How do they use limited financial, human, and natural resources wisely?
Developing locally-driven solutions to these challenges is critical to the long-term vitality of these communities, and the arts and design can play a powerful role in this process. Across the country, community leaders and residents are coming together to tackle these challenges and to find creative strategies that address:
- How to build strong economies and grow jobs;
- Where to locate new growth or redevelop older areas;
- How to design efficient transportation systems;
- How to protect the community’s historic and culturally significant resources.
Rural design is an important tool for rural communities to build upon existing assets and improve the way a community looks, its quality of life, and its economic viability. However, few rural communities have access to design assistance or the expertise to tackle these challenges on their own.
The Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™ (CIRD) provides communities access to the resources they need to convert their own good ideas into reality. CIRD works with communities with populations of 50,000 or less, and offers annual competitive funding to as many as six small towns or rural communities to host a two-and-a-half day community design workshop. With support from a wide range of design, planning and creative placemaking professionals, the workshops bring together local leaders from non-profits, community organizations, and government to develop actionable solutions to the community's pressing design challenges. The community receives additional support through webinars, conference calls, and web-based resources.
Established in 1991 as Your Town: the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™, CIRD has convened more than 70 workshops in all regions of the country, empowering residents to leverage local assets for the future in order to build better places to live, work, and play. Initially a partnership among the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Syracuse, the program was managed by Richard Hawks and Shelley Mastran from 1991-2012.
CIRD remains one of the NEA's key design leadership initiatives, and is currently conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Project for Public Spaces, Inc., along with the Orton Family Foundation.