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The New Ruralism Project
An Initiative of NNECAPA and STaR

What Great Things are Small Towns and Rural Communities Doing in Your Area?

This is an exciting time in rural America. Many communities are finding ways to reinvent a more sustainable local economy and developing grass-roots-driven programs to meet residents’ basic everyday needs. With assistance from the APA Divisions Council, the Northern New England Chapter of the APA (NNECAPA) and the Small Town and Rural Planning Division (STaR) have teamed up to develop an on-line collection of case studies from around the country highlighting ingredients that have made for successful innovation in rural communities, and describe that information in a format that can easily be shared with planners and communities around the country. The NNECAPA-STaR New Ruralism Project seeks to tease out successful planning strategies supporting and fostering community strength which promote elements of sustainability.

To get the project started, with funding from APA Chapter Presidents Council, the Northern New England Chapter of the APA compiled a set of case studies from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  The pilot project covered local initiatives focusing on a wide range of topics such as local food, providing for the needs of children and seniors, energy conservation, the working landscape, resiliency and jobs.

This on-line library is being expanded as we find examples from other regions of the country and from other topic areas.

If you have experience with rural initiatives that you would like to share with other communities facing similar needs and challenges, please send a brief description to Tara Bamford, Project Manager. You will be contacted for more information, and if your suggestion is chosen for our next round of case studies, you will be asked to participate in a short phone interview and to provide some graphics and contact information. We promise to make it as easy as possible!

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

Criteria for Case Studies

Here are the 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.