Radically Rural Press Release: Main Street

Planning downtowns holistically following a pandemic topic of Radically Rural Main Street sessions

KEENE -- Experiencing what architect Rik Ekstrom calls “a new dimension,” small towns, emerging from a pandemic, are confronting an overhaul of what was once normal on their Main Streets. Ekstrom sees all this upheaval as manageable, though not easy.

“The design process has to be founded in a ‘new economics’ that makes sense,” he says. “And hopefully the economics are as visionary as the design plan - that is where we will see change for the future driven.”

Ekstrom, co-founder of ARExA, and Radically Rural Director Julianna Dodson, are this year’s leaders for Radically Rural’s Main Street Track. They hope to promote discussion around the long-term success of communities with downtowns at the core. Those who may find the Main Street sessions appealing are business owners and professionals, municipal and city planners, community members, volunteers and individuals interested in community revitalization.

Here’s the program:

Contemplating the Transition from CBD to DBC – 9/22 at 10:30 a.m.

The old “Central Business District” could perhaps more aptly be coined a town’s “Dedicated Biodiversity Commons (DBC).” How does biodiversity relate to beloved Main Streets? Ekstrom will launch the Main Street program by identifying potential conditions that towns and small cities might seize upon, enhance and manipulate to more successfully transition to a DBC. Guest speakers will share their initiatives and planning guidelines, products and services that can be the backbone of the evolving downtown. A breakout session will engage participants in brainstorming about opportunities.

Co-Designing Main Street in the New Economy – 9/22 at 2:15 p.m.

As towns emerge from a year of turmoil, a hard-won truth has surfaced from a collective experience: Anything is possible. Communities have proven that by joining forces, tweaking the “rules” and by finding unconventional solutions, they can care for one another and build vibrant economies and futures for small towns. Session speaker Jessica Healy of Seven Willow Collaborative will discuss economic changes and challenges and will suggest engaged citizens embrace these challenges. Jessica Lax, the New Jersey State Office of Innovation. will lead participant groups through a series of exercises and discussions designed to demonstrate three critical components of co-design: Stakeholder engagement and information gathering; analysis and coding; and communication a vision. Participants will be armed with information to help them implement participatory design practices in their own hometowns.

Gathering In The Commons: Hosting Authentic Experiences in Rural Communities – 9/23 at 10:00 a.m.

Many know the stories of rural American communities who have countered economic uncertainty and demographic shifts by transforming into destinations for annual events and gatherings. Think Telluride CO, Austin TX and Indio, CA. But are these really success stories in the long run? And who benefits from this success? This session examines how rural and exurban communities can take advantage of the post-vaccine excitement around events to host gatherings that support rather than harm local communities. Presenters will provide different perspectives, from long-time residents, from local organizers and from outside promoters, and debate the meaning of “success.” Architect, urbanist and teacher Darrick Borowski, AIA (ARExA, WeWork, Edible Infrastructures) will present observations about the idea and practice of convening large events and identify guiding principles.

For more information on the Radically Rural, or this year’s track themes, visit the event’s website at www.radicallyrural.org