January 10, 2013

Welcome to the new Citizens' Institute on Rural Design!

We are very excited to re-launch this program, as it represents a unique opportunity for both of our agencies to provide essential design services to rural communities.  Through our new partnership with Project for Public Spaces, Inc., the Orton Family Foundation, and the CommunityMatters® Partnership, rural communities can build upon existing assets and improve the way their community looks, its quality of life, and its economic viability.

The Past

Established by the NEA in 1991 as Your Town: The Citizens' Institute on Rural Design, CIRD has proven that design can be a powerful tool for rural communities. CIRD has convened more than 60 design workshops in all regions of the country, with workshop topics including downtown revitalization, arts-based development, heritage preservation, land and agricultural conservation, growth management, and transportation. With the support of design professionals from the fields of community planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and creative placemaking, the workshops brought together local citizens and leaders from non-profits, community organizations, and government to develop actionable solutions to pressing design challenges. The results for many communities have been significant.

The Future

Few rural communities have access to design assistance or the expertise to tackle planning and development challenges on their own. In its new form, CIRD provides an expanded suite of resources to help communities address these challenges. These include:

Design Workshops. We're going to keep offering the bread and butter of CIRD: providing funding and technical assistance to small towns and rural communities to host two-and-a-half day community design workshops. They'll stick to much the same format, but be enhanced by more robust pre- and post-workshop technical assistance and by the participation of USDA Rural Development staff local to the region.

Capacity Building Series. The Orton Family Foundation has a history of providing fantastic support to rural communities through conference calls and webinars that are free and open to the public.  With the support of its CommunityMatters® partners, Orton will bring this resource to CIRD as a series of calls and webinars on topics such as community outreach, values-based planning, and economic benefits of good design.

A newly reformulated CIRD website. As you can see, we've totally redesigned the CIRD website--adding this blog, an online application process, and (coming soon) an easy to navigate 'resources' section for communities seeking connections to rural news and networks, best practices and recent research studies, funding opportunities, or other technical assistance related to rural design and planning. We'll also be tweeting via @rural_design and posting all kinds of helpful information for rural communities on Facebook.

As we learn more about the complex issues rural communities currently face, we hope that CIRD will become an active member of the rural assistance community and help rural communities across America design and build better places to live, work, and play.

We're excited to get started and look forward to working with you. So what are you waiting for... apply for a workshop now!

Jason Schupbach, Director of Design Programs
National Endowment for the Arts

Chris Beck, Senior Projects Advisor
United States Department of Agriculture - Rural Development