The New Ruralism Initiative - Sharing Stories Of New Ruralism

Remember the New Ruralism Initiative, a project of the American Planning Association’s Northern New England Chapter?  Since 2015 MAP has been part of this inspiring project.  The project, which started by featuring efforts in Northern New England, expanded to feature grassroots initiatives from Alaska to New York to Alabama which are reinventing local markets and developing grassroots driven programs to meet the needs of their rural residents. And now the New Ruralism Report is out!                      

The New Ruralism Initiative now has a downloadable report to share. This report celebrates the rural renaissance in the making with twenty case studies of successful local initiatives in a wide variety of areas such as local foods, housing, energy, new approaches to cooperatives, community services and more. The report shares the lessons local leaders shared with us to help other small-town initiatives get off the ground and succeed. We hope the stories and lessons provide inspiration and guidance for local leaders and volunteers seeking to apply creative solutions to improve everyday life for rural residents.

The Somerset Grist Mill is reinvigorating the local grain industry and the Skowhegan region.

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.

The New Ruralism Initiative is pleased to share these stories of rural leadership, place-making, entrepreneurship, energy-generation, art-creation, and volunteerism that sustain the heart and soul of rural places.

The attractive report was made possible with the help of U Penn doctoral student Jennifer Whittaker and an APA Divisions Council grant provided by the Small Town and Rural Planning Division (STaR). All twenty case studies are included at the end of the report and in the NNECAPA  on-line library.

Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center is located in downtown Camden, Alabama. The gallery store features regional artists using a multitude of different mediums and styles.

Written by:

Lynne Seeley and Jennifer Whittaker and the New Ruralism Team

Lynne Seeley is a Community Planning Consultant based in Yarmouth. Jennifer Whittaker is a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student. 

The New Ruralism Team:

  • Tara Bamford, Community Planning Consultant
  • Jo Anne Carr, Town of Jaffrey NH & Fitchburg State University
  • Peg Elmer Hough, Community Resilience Organizations
  • Mark Lapping, University of Southern Maine
  • Chad Nabity, Regional Planning Director, Grand Island, NE
  • Lynne Seeley, Community Planning Consultant
  • Jennifer Whittaker, University of Pennsylvania