At Mississippi State University's Carl Small Town Center, architecture students are thoughtfully helping communities improve their physical environments to thrive culturally, economically and sustainably.





MSU Architecture Students Bring Big Ideas to Small Towns

Student teams in Mississippi State University’s Carl Small Town Center are pioneering innovative approaches to create appealing, sustainable communities.

As part of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, the community design center serves small towns all across the state of Mississippi, helping address common small-town challenges in their physical environments.

Students use a host of tools to develop fresh approaches to community-based design. The center links communities with people and resources to address specific design problems and opportunities, and it also functions as an incubator for applying creativity and ingenuity to community development.

Greg G. Hall, associate dean of the architectural college, explains, “The center supports the university's mission to serve and advance Mississippi's development through teaching, research and service.”

Throughout its almost 40-year history, MSU’s Carl Small Town Center has evolved as a leader in community-based design. Students have introduced new ideas that impact sustainability and economic development for rural towns in Mississippi, and they've even helped communities implement recovery plans after devastating storms.

In 2016, the American Planning Association presented the James A. Segedy Award to Carl Small Town Center for producing the year’s outstanding student project. Based in Mississippi’s rural Chickasaw County, the project enhanced an existing rails-to-trails cycling and pedestrian path with a community pavilion.

In the Mississippi Delta, students are updating economically challenged neighborhoods while retaining their historical significance and capitalizing on the close relationships and sense of place residents share.

In Marks, students completed the "Marking the Mule” project to highlight the town's role in the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign Mule Train. Although a significant milestone in the civil rights movement, the event had never been effectively communicated to local residents. As a result, Marks had not benefited from increased public awareness and economic stimulus that normally accompany such important historic sites.

With funding from an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, MSU students developed interpretive pedestrian and vehicle trails along with corresponding signage highlighting civil-rights related sites in Marks. They also designed a master plan for the designated Trailhead Park and built a welcome sign showing interactive maps for new trails.

In Greenwood, residents of Baptist Town — one of the area's oldest African American neighborhoods — have benefited from a revitalization project launched in 2000 in partnership with MSU. Students designed a number of improvements to enhance the area's history, identity and culture, including new resident-owned cottages, parks, streetscapes and a community center.

Through the Carl Small Town Center, Mississippi State students are building more positive and prosperous communities in Mississippi.



"We hire students who are passionate about working in small communities and who have solid backgrounds in design, writing and thinking skills," says Kemp. "Internships are very competitive because our students receive first-hand experience in community engagement, and project planning and design, all while earning credits toward licensure.

"Through our many projects, we introduce new ideas that impact the larger built environment of the state,” she adds. "Our goal at the Carl Small Town Center is to help improve Mississippi’s small towns while also preparing our students to explore alternative career paths in architecture.”



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