Visionary leaders in Mississippi State University’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center are pioneering innovative approaches to create appealing, economically sustainable communities.
As part of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, the community design center serves small towns across the state of Mississippi, helping address common small-town challenges in their physical environments.
Fueling the center’s drive is the example of its namesake, Mississippi entrepreneur and founder of Viking Range Corporation Fred Carl, Jr., who guided the well-known transformation of his declining hometown Greenwood, Mississippi, into a source of community pride and vitality.
From its start more than 40 years ago, MSU’s Small Town Center emerged as a leader in community-based design. Today, planners continue to introduce new ideas that impact sustainability and economic development for rural towns in Mississippi, and they've even helped communities implement recovery plans after devastating tornadoes.
Of significance is the center’s approach to linking communities with people and resources to address specific design problems and opportunities. For example, the center applies creativity and ingenuity to community development via on-campus partnerships with the School of Architecture, the MSU Extension Service, and the College of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, and other entities.
In 2019, the American Planning Association presented the Vernon Dienes Award to the Small Town Center for its Ripley Master Plan.
Across our state, Mississippi State is updating economically challenged neighborhoods while retaining their historical significance and capitalizing on the close relationships and sense of place residents share.
In Marks, Small Town Center designers completed the "Marking the Mule” project to highlight the town's role in the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. 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 several national funders, MSU developed pedestrian and cycling trails along with corresponding signage highlighting civil-rights related sites in Marks. University representatives 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 — are benefitting from a revitalization project launched in 2000 in partnership with MSU. Small Town Center designers planned and implemented a number of improvements to enhance the area's history, identity and culture, including resident-owned cottages, parks, streetscapes and a community center.
Most recently, the Small Town Center partnered with the MSU Extension Service on an initiative for the Center for Disease Control in Marks, Mississippi. The project addresses reducing obesity, building healthy communities, and increasing cultural tourism that leads to economic resilience. (All this is for the Marks project previously mentioned above).