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The New Ruralism Initiative
A Project of NNECAPA and STaR

What is New Ruralism?

Technology advances, economic shifts, and demographic changes are transforming rural America. Rural communities on the urban fringe are growing rapidly, faced with challenges in how to manage development. More remote rural regions are losing population, challenged by declining industry and a shrinking tax base. Some rural communities are struggling to handle a large seasonal influx of tourists, others are pleading for tourists to visit. While some places are building off an agricultural renaissance, others are attracting new residents interested in remote-working, and many are doing both. Whether communities are growing or shrinking, rural communities are dynamic, inventive, vibrant, and thriving. Capturing this energy is what New Ruralism is all about.

New Ruralism articulates that rural communities, to prosper, need a synchronized sustainability focus in three areas: economic, environmental, and social. To thrive, rural planning, policy, and grassroots efforts must embrace new methods of economic sustainability, like cooperatives and the creative economy. They must uphold environmental sustainability, both protecting the land while stewarding working landscapes. And, they must invest in social sustainability, fostering community, strengthening their safety net, and nurturing active democracy. The weaving of these ideas together contributes to strong rural communities.

Rural places nationwide embrace these ideals, welcoming the changes of the twenty-first century with renewed vigor. From transforming vacant historic churches as community centers to developing fishing cooperatives to rebirthing an heirloom grains industry, rural communities aren’t holding back from nurturing the future they want to see. We believe these courageous efforts shouldn’t happen in isolation. New Ruralism seeks to learn from rural communities, understand their barriers and opportunities, share their success stories, and connect thinkers and doers with each other.

Read our report Lessons in New Ruralism - Fall 2020 to learn about some of the key ingredients of successful grassroots initiatives and lessons they shared with us.

Case Studies 

Click on the category below to view our current collection of case studies:

Focusing on Food

People Helping People

Building Jobs on Our Strengths

Energy of Volunteers

Other Innovative Rural Initiatives

Help Us Continue to Expand Our On-line Library

Do you know of a local initiative in a small town or rural area that might inspire and inform a grassroots effort elsewhere?   Email Tara Bamford at or Mark Lapping at with a brief description of the project. The team will reach out to you to obtain additional information and determine if your community is a good fit for a New Ruralism case study. We look forward to keeping the on-line library growing and relevant.

Criteria for inclusion in the New Ruralism on-line library:

The strategy, solution or innovation proposed to be highlighted in a case study appropriately fits rural communities/areas with low population density, is not dependent on the existence of professional town staff, is locally-driven and locally supported, and fosters:

  • Attributes of sustainability in the social, environmental and/or economic spheres of community planning
  • Improvement in quality of life, livable wage jobs, meeting basic household needs, and/or long-term community resilience
  • Growth in the local and regional economy rather than leakage of wealth outside the region
  • Thriving, vibrant communities
In addition, the approach itself should be sustainable, meaning:
  • Long-term success is not dependent on ongoing direct funding from an outside NGO or public agency or staffing from an outside organization, although innovative or successful local programs might be related to or supported by a public program or policy.
  • Resource-based strategies have a foundation in sustainable stewardship for the long-term.

Promoting Sustainability in Rural Community Planning

Economic:  Advances in high tech communication gained over recent decades has empowered creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurism, local ownership, small businesses and cooperatives.  This is supported by progress in decentralized energy, communication, transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure.  Historic preservation is celebrated as a foundation for economic development.  Innovative financing is another element of the growing creative economy.

Environmental:  Understanding the dependence on the land and water for community health, there is a strong sense of stewardship, caring, and connection to natural systems.  The surrounding open landscape isn’t just conserved for human recreation, it is “working” – supporting growing strength of  local food/energy/fiber businesses.  Strategies reflect a better understanding of science and are integrated across sectors, seeking to solve issues by focusing on inter-connected, closed loop systems.

Social: There is a caring acceptance of all people that fosters creativity, innovation and community resilience. Strong social networks exist in tandem with self-sufficiency and independence.  Volunteerism and democracy are thriving.  Citizens feel empowered, that everyone is important.  A strong sense of community or “place” is celebrated with pride, further strengthening the network.