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5 Small Town Stories of Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Community Action

Photo Credit: Cheryl Longyear, Montezuma Town

Brendan Crain of Project for Public Spaces joined CommunityMatters and the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design for our December conference call, A Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Approach to Community Action. Fundamentally, “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” (LQC) is about taking an experimental path to low-cost, high-impact results.

Sharing examples of scalable projects like Better BlockRestaurant DayOpen Streets, and the Alley Project, Brendan offered numerous models for communities of all sizes. And, he pointed callers to resources like MIT’s recent white paper, Places in the Making, that demonstrate the value of citizen-driven placemaking.

But the question remained: Can small towns and rural places truly see success with LQC, or is this approach best left to urban areas and city folk?

We turned to our callers for help, asking for stories of LQC in action. We heard from many of you, and are so thankful for the enthusiastic responses!

Following are five stories from our callers that demonstrate the potential for small town success with Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper:

Montezuma, New York (pop. 1,277): Seeking to rebuild the town’s image after a long period of decline, the Montezuma Historical Society commissioned a mural depicting the town during its thriving Erie Canal era. With a significant loss of historic buildings in downtown, there was little available space for public art, so the mural was painted on a donated shipping container and located near a popular trailhead. Read more about the project

Photo credit: Julia Oxarango-Ingram

Shoshone, ID (pop. 1,482): Faced with empty and decaying historic buildings in downtown, this small town filled vacant spaces with pop-up thrift and antique shops. Serving as low-cost business incubators, stores like the CrossRoads Mercantile helped create local jobs while activating the downtown core.

Photo credit: Mary Lou Carolan

Wallkill, NY (pop. 2,288): Looking to activate its prominent front lawn, the Wallkill Public Library (service area pop. 6,491) installed colorful lawn chairs and signs inviting people to relax and enjoy the tree-filled space. This effort changed the look and feel of the library lawn from formal and manicured to comfortable and playful. The area now serves as a gathering place for kids and families to play, have lunch, make music and meet with friends.

Wallkill is among many libraries taking on LQC ideas. We also heard about a great outdoor space that the Richfield Branch Library in Akron, Ohio created by tapping into the skills of local gardeners and landscape architects.  View photos of their sensory garden. 

Photo credit: Town of Morristown

Morristown, VT (pop. 5,227): The Morristown Alliance for Commerce & Culture sponsored a public “chair-art-able” project, asking local residents to paint Adirondack chairs that were then placed around downtown. The project raised awareness of local talent, added character to downtown, and increased walkability. Plus, the chairs were auctioned at the end of the summer to raise funds for future activities. Listen to coverage of their story on Vermont Public Radio.

Photo credit: Jake Krohn

Fergus Falls, MN (pop. 13,138): Fergus Falls’ Bureau of Urban Experimentation identified an underutilized corner of a city-owned downtown parking garage and drew a mock-up of the space with permanent bike racks. Seeing positive responses to the design, the city agreed to install a temporary rack as a prototype for something more permanent. Within a week, the temporary rack was installed along with wayfinding signs directing bicyclists to this new amenity.

Thanks to everyone who shared their LQC stories with us. Find examples from communities large and small, plus more insight from Brendan and our callers by reading through the call notes or listening to the recording.