Architecture after Austerity: Retooling the Rural Plan
The goal of Architecture after Austerity: Retooling the Rural Plan is to develop an innovative economic plan that first — identifies undervalued assets of a community suffering from austerity; second — experiments with disruptive economic technologies; and third — adapts existing social infrastructures for equitable economic transitions. The project implements the tools of spatial design and regional planning in the service of people attempting to move beyond the extractive economies that have plagued rural Appalachia.
The southeast region of Ohio has faced economic hardships in the past few decades. The dwindling coal and natural gas industry that supplied so many jobs has left many townships in the lurch. Crooksville, Ohio, my hometown, has been particularly hit hard by economic austerity. Like many rural Appalachian areas, Crooksville suffers from imposed austerity and inescapable structural poverty. Twenty percent of the population of Perry County, where Crooksville is situated, lives below the poverty line. A number that is seven percent higher than the national average. These conditions, over time, have led to a kind of "decision fatigue" where local governance structures and regional planning initiatives are powerless against the ongoing economic downturn. With vanishing economic opportunities, the cultural infrastructures of a place are some of the first spaces to be defunded and some of the last to return if economic prosperity does ever come back. The story is the same across the western Appalachian region.
Many of the sophisticated tools used to plan for uncertain futures, utilized in "developing" areas and major urban corridors, are simply not accessible to the residents of the area. Further, discourses surrounding architecture and regional planning tend to only serve those areas that are already privileged by power and economic wealth. Even in architectural 'redevelopment' narratives, such as in Pittsburgh or mid-sized cities in the region, redevelopment is only made possible by making once destitute areas consumable through banal 'placemaking' projects that typically cater to commuters through newly accessible infrastructure. In Crooksville, there has been some effort at restoring the basic functions of a post-industrial city. While these repairs are of course necessary, questions arise for places like Crooksville that lack the investment appeal of larger rust belt or “legacy” cities like Pittsburgh or Marietta.
Architecture’s purview tends to be enacted when large scale investment and redevelopment become planning imperatives. Yet, what of the immeasurable qualities of a place? What of its cultural gathering places, its public spaces, its sense of local pride? What is the role of architecture, design, and the arts, in supporting a just redevelopment for places like Crooksville that don’t garner attention from investors?