keep dreaming, houston: a CIRD recap

pano at CIRD

Even impending ice storms didn’t keep residents of Houston, Mississippi from participating in the Citizens Institute on Rural Design hosted in their community February 22, 23, and 24.  One of only four such events to be held in the US in 2015, the Carl Small Town Center partnered with the Chickasaw Development Foundation to pair local passion with expert knowledge from around the country in the fields of bike and pedestrian transit, signage and wayfinding, and community development. Many thanks to Project for Public Spaces and the National Endowment for the Arts, the organizations who brought this much-needed program to life.

Over the course of three days, social, environmental and economic factors were all considered as the team discussed the terminus of the Tanglefoot Trail (just minutes from downtown Houston), and design implications for the city as a whole. The CSTC will continue to develop the design with the community throughout the spring and summer, so images are still to come, but here are a few of my favorite quotes from our expert panelists at the event.

“Building a park or a building and then thinking you can just walk away is like thinking you will never need another hair cut.” – Cynthia Nikitin, Director Citizens Institute on Rural Design

“Even the most expensive mile of bike and pedestrian infrastructure is about 1/50th of the cost of a mile of car infrastructure.” – Heather Deutsch, Sustainable Transportation Planner, Toole Design Group

“Our task is to hear what this place is all about. Let’s create a singage kit of parts based on the unique crafts and craft people here.” – Andrew Barresi, Principal, Roll Barresi & Associates

The most important quotes come from local residents though. Two images of our Houston Candy Chang-style “photo booth” are below. More of these to come as well.


2014 Citizens Institute on Rural Design Awards Announced

The Carl Small Town Center has been selected as one of four applicants awarded a technical assistance workshop by the Citizens Institute on Rural Design. Congratulations to John Poros and Leah Kemp for all their hard work! Less than a year after the opening of the 46 mile long Tanglefoot Trail, we are excited for CIRD to come to Houston, MS, and maybe visit nearby New Houlka as well, where we are wrapping up our Spring CREATE class project.

The full announcement, including descriptions of all four of the selected applicants, is available on CIRD’s website.

tractor_wormfarm

painting the town square

Work began on the CREATE: New Houlka project on Tuesday. The design, which delineates a walking path, bike path, and parking areas around the historic downtown square, is the result of a design-impact seminar I am co-teaching with Leah Faulk Kemp through MSU’s Carl Small Town Center. Students learned about and implemented community engagement activities throughout the first few weeks of the semester and then worked together to design a response to the needs and aspirations expressed by residents.

Based on community feedback, the primary goal of the project became to attract both local and non-local people (walkers, bikers, drivers, and festival go-ers) to the square. In particular, residents and community leaders hope to attract bicyclists from the new Tanglefoot Trail (a 43.6 mile Rails to Trails conversion that opened in October 2013) to visit New Houlka, even if just for a spin around the newly painted square.

Here’s a link to the video of some news coverage we got yesterday!

gas station information

In a community as small as New Houlka, MS (population 617), it can be difficult to plan a community engagement activity that more than a handful of people get involved in. The CREATE: New Houlka class was struggling with not only this, but we also needed an introduction to this rural community. Last Sunday, the students found a way to solve both problems.

First, they identified a place that is a hub of public activity, and then researched when the most people visit. The answer: David’s One Stop after church on Sunday. David’s is more than a gas station, offering hot plates, homemade desserts, and tables to stay and mingle. David’s welcomed us to set up outside of their store on what turned out to be one a beautiful, warm day.

Students researched methods of community engagement a formulated a plan in class. Each developed a component of the engagement and on Sunday we had a large arrow that said “Tell us about Houlka.”, a map with push pins, a string of questions on colorful paper, and cookies to help draw people in to share their thoughts. For two hours, a constant stream of welcoming residents shared their ideas about what makes Houlka unique, the assets, the eyesores, and more.

Students also drew on some of the work of artist Candy Chang, and created “tablecloths” that we left at David’s to get responses beyond Sunday’s event (pictured below).

Throughout the day, a few themes emerged. Houlka is hopeful though it’s population and economy continue to shrink. Houlka is welcoming; residents were not skeptical of us and they are optimistic about how the new Tanglefoot Trail could impact downtown. The residents of Houlka support each other. Benefits for residents who have had a misfortune are held as often as biweekly.

A big thank you to the residents of Houlka for their warm welcome. Our class is excited to partner with you, and deliver a project that reflects the spirit of your community. Visit our facebook page for updates throughout the semester.