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Four Alliances Demonstrate That Urban + Rural = A Powerful Combination

Photo Credit:  Linda Broeren, Flickr Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/oGEuGs
Photo Credit: Linda Broeren, Flickr Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/oGEuGs

Say the word “rural” and a particular set of images comes to mind—fields of grain, livestock, or the general store. Talk about “urban” and you imagine busy streets and tall buildings. 

It’s unusual for urban and rural to intersect. We compartmentalize the two contexts as separate and unique—not to be mixed. In many parts of the country, these real and perceived differences—from competing political priorities to divergent cultural norms—divide rural and urban communities.

Yet, communities are increasingly acknowledging areas of interdependence and common interests

Emerging rural-urban alliances capitalize on the unique assets of both rural and urban places to bridge divides, build mutual understanding, and infuse creative energy into community development. 

Here are four examples of creative rural-urban partnerships spearheading this trend: 

1. Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange: Community leaders in Kentucky are pairing up to exchange ideas, build relationships, and establish regional collaborations. Art of the Rural and Appalshop formed the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange to spark cooperation between rural Whitesburg (pop. 2,057) and urban Louisville (pop. 756,832), based on the belief that if people like each other they are more likely to care about one another’s places. Following an initial three-day workshop in 2014, new partnerships are already emerging—a city councilman from Whitesburg and a Louisville-based real estate developer are exploring creating a boutique art hotel in one of Whitesburg’s historic buildings. 

2. Artist-Manufacturer Alliance: WST Industries, a manufacturer in Sanford, North Carolina (pop. 29,470) was looking to even out its business cycle and to provide more local job opportunities. Art-Force, Inc. paired WST with Cox-Cannon Studio of Raleigh to develop ideas for expansion through an artist-manufacturer alliance. Building on local assets and conversations with community members and business owners, WST and Cox-Cannon designed a new product reflective of community interests—portable metal camping tables. The tables generate income for both companies, and are a point of civic pride in Sanford.

3. Community Clustering Initiative: Looking to explore principles of effective governance in rural regions of the Northwest, the Rural Policy Research Institute  (RUPRI) established the Community Clustering Initiative (CCI). Through three pilot projects, RURPI discovered keys to regional cooperation in local governance. One takeaway? It takes deliberate attention to maintain a regional focus, especially in areas where the urban and affluent dominate politics in otherwise rural communities. Pilot communities overcame historic power dynamics by hosting meetings in rural towns rather than core urban areas and by selecting rural residents for key leadership roles in the cluster.

4. Artist on the Plains: Artists interested in pushing the dialogue on urban and rural realities are joining forces through the M12 Collective’s Artist on the Plains artist-in-residency program. Last year, M12 worked with Swedish art collective Kultivator, the University of Colorado, and community members in Colorado’s Washington County to create Gran’s University in the tiny town of Last Chance, Colorado (pop. 20). Gran’s University celebrates the wisdom of grandmothers while building dialogue around the importance of rural cultural connections and larger global issues. Through storytelling and engagement, artists’ work validated traditional wisdom and culture, while connecting Colorado’s urban communities to the state’s rural heritage. Gran’s University brought over 600 people to remote Last Chance.

Join the next CommunityMatters and Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™ event for inspiration on creative urban and rural connections that could happen in your area. We’ll hear from Savannah Barrett, program director, Art of the Rural; Kirsten Stoltz, programming director, M12 Collective; and Chuck Fluharty, founder and vice president for policy programs, Rural Policy Research Institute. 

This free webinar on Creative Rural-Urban Alliances is Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 4-5 p.m. Eastern. Register now!

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