New Ruralism

Integrated Community Planning that Promotes the Best of Today (and Yesterday) for Tomorrow

 Scale of Northern New England’s
Urban Centers
Manchester 110,000
Nashua 87,000
Portland 66,500
Concord 42,733
Burlington 42,645
Lewiston 36,500
 (US Census, 2011)

As land use planners, we stretch across a country that’s 90% rural landscape. The city of Burlington falls into the USDA definition of “rural” (population under 50,000), putting the entire state of Vermont into a rural category.  In Northern New England, with exactly three “cities” over that population number, not many planners are working in communities that would be defined as urban.

New Urbanism, a term invented by architects and applied on a development level, project by project, has taught community planners much about borrowing from tradition to build better places in which to live and work using today’s technology.  Smart growth techniques derived from those principles have been transformative, and the National Main Street program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has further spread the structure, policy and tools to gain award-winning downtowns and village centers.

So Royalton, Vermont – a “designated village center” under Vermont’s vigorous Downtown Program, is a thriving commercial and social center

So Royalton, Vermont – a “designated village center” under Vermont’s vigorous Downtown Program, is a thriving commercial and social center

New Ruralism (other than as a marketing phrase used to sell gated communities in Georgia and Florida) is a term first launched into national land use conversation by Sibella Krauss, a Berkeley professor.  As she characterized it, “New Ruralism would help create permanent agricultural preserves on the urban edge as sources of fresh food for the larger urban region, and as places for nurturing urban connections with the land”.  And then the Brits began using the term to characterize New Ruralism as a pastoral idyll inserted in the midst of cities: “Meadows nestling beside tower blocks, children cavorting in rustic playgrounds, not to mention all those farmers’ markets – these days, our cities can’t seem to get enough of the countryside.”(Paula Cocozza THE GUARDIAN, Sunday 18 November 2012).  Andres Duany, the “father” of New Urbanism calls the design of squares of garden allotments surrounded by urban development “Agrarian Urbanism”.

 How about a counterpoint, of New Ruralism.  Point is: this region, in addition to many others across the country is experiencing a rural renaissance that is very attractive to visitors and causing many to migrate in as residents. Our planning strategies are not designed simply to serve the urban metropolis nearby, but to make these communities a place to live and prosper.

Case Studies

Click on the category below to view the case studies-

Focusing on Food
People Helping People
Building Jobs on our Strengths
The Energy of Volunteers
Other Innovative Rural Initiatives

We’ve collected a set of tools and policy to guide land use under a mix of healthy community and smart growth principles: to address social inclusion, economic development, environmental protection, historic fabric and working landscape enterprise and conservation.  We know that our success is not universally shared.  The goal of this project is to integrate and distribute successful policy and tools under the umbrella of New Ruralism to spread its application and results.  Accredited planning curriculums should include rural development and conservation strategies in balance with training on urban planning skills.  Let’s capture and promote what’s working.

New Ruralism Attributes

 Promoting Individualism within Community

  • everyone is important
  • grounding, centering
  • volunteerism
  • democracy is alive – citizen empowerment
  • fostering creative spirit
  • fostering self-sufficient individuals and communities

Simplicity and Enlightenment

  • fostering entrepreneurism, ingenuity, flexibility
  • co-operatives, commons
  • reliance on local food, energy fuel and fiber
  • local ownership
  • decentralized, integrated infrastructure
  • creating “closed-loop” systems
  • putting long-term sustainability before quick profits

Enhancing community “soul” via place-making

  • protecting the historic fabric of stonewalls, town centers, barns, working landscape and waterfronts
  • connection to natural systems
  • creating spaces where people stand and gather, smiling, hugging, talking
  • celebration via community service, music, art, dance, theater: promoting sharing, pride of place, trust, a fun place to be!

To help define New Ruralism, a set of case studies are culled and presented here, from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. NNECAPA’s New Ruralism Advisory Committee set the following criteria for the examples chosen:

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:

  • some of the attributes described in the background above under the social, environmental and economic spheres of community planning
  • improvement in quality of life, livable wage jobs, meeting basic household needs, and/or long-term community sustainability
  • growth in the local and regional economy rather than leakage of wealth outside the region
  • thriving communities

 In addition, it was agreed that the approach should aim to 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.
Bread n Puppet Theatre, Glover, Vermont

Bread n Puppet Theatre, Glover, Vermont

As rural community development practitioners across the country note, rural areas have less financial resources to work with than metro areas.  New Ruralism provides a collective umbrella – a set of tools and policy  – that seeks and celebrates creative innovation to sustain healthy social, economic and natural systems into the future.

“Local resources are too scarce and too precious…It appears that more and more rural communities are going to be more and more on their own.  Under these constraints, people of these places can still find ways to make peace with their ecological homes while building a good life for themselves.  Some are already doing just that.”  Timothy Collins, PhD, Assistant Director, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs; www/

NNECAPA Email: [email protected]

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