October 23, 2019

Rural design as an engine for improving quality of life

Isabella Green

The applications for this year’s CIRD Learning Cohort were as varied in their design challenges as they were in their geographic locations. Nearly half of cohort communities identified downtown development as their primary design challenge, but economic development was not the only priority for this year’s cohort. Around one third of the communities brought up challenges related to housing, arts and culture, and transportation infrastructure.

Among the Learning Cohort communities whose design challenges fell in these categories, there was an overall commitment towards improving residents’ quality of life. This includes Iola, KS who plans to better serve its low-income community members by providing quality, affordable housing. It also includes a handful of CIRD awardees who recognized the importance of their community’s identity and culture and plan to improve their communities by prioritizing local art and artists. Entiat, WA wants to develop two public lots in the town, improving the spaces by incorporating art into them. Ignacio, CO wants to strengthen their economy and cultural heritage by developing their creative district. Crosby, ND is working to create beautification standards that will improve the quality of life in the community at large. Scottsville, VA wants to repurpose a retired factory building in the town into a space which both provides for the community and is ecologically conscious.

New Market
Photo: Shenandoah County Office of Economic Development

Several other cohort communities identified transportation infrastructure, including improvements to roads, parking and sidewalks, as their major design challenge. Waycross, GA recognized that poor transportation options were causing health, education and poverty problems in the community, and plan to diversity and transportation options and infrastructure. Eufaula, AL wants to better connect their downtown and schools, and plan to improve and expand their walking trails to achieve that.

"[We have] been really focused on improving the quality of life in the community...A vibrant and healthy community is a prosperous community, and that is what we want to be.”

The emphasis of these design challenges on improving the quality of life for residents supports the argument that rural community placemaking is as much about community development as it is about economic improvement.

Currently, CIRD has several existing publications and resources on identity and community development, including The Power of Community Branding and the 2017 CIRD workshop in Limon, CO. As part of their year in CIRD, Learning Cohort communities will also receive several perks to tackle their downtown design challenges, including:

  • An invitation to the Learning Cohort Summit where they’ll attend design workshops and develop a design challenge plan.
  • Access to online webinars and coaching on design-related topics.
  • Opportunities to exchange experience and knowledge with other rural communities.
  • Technical assistance

CIRD is looking forward to work with cohort awardees to develop design solutions which are mindful of the cultural identity and seek to improve the quality of life for all community residents.

What rural design challenges did we leave out? Tweet us at @rural_design or send an email to let us know what else we should be doing!