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Revitalization of the Downtown Square in a Small Rural City: The Impact of the University

Puffer, Wendy (2016) Revitalization of the Downtown Square in a Small Rural City: The Impact of the University. Masters thesis, Radford University.

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Abstract

URBANIZATION Millennials (born 1984-2002) are migrating to large cities (urbanization) while the population of smaller towns is dwindling (Duljsens, 2010). Across the United States, there are also vibrant universities housed within the city limits of several small towns (Perry & Wiewel, 2005). Unfortunate- ly, it is not uncommon to find blight and vacant buildings in a downtown area that is only a few miles from a prosperous university; the disparities of vacancy against dense activity are perplexing. The purpose of this research study is to deter- mine what unique benefits that a local university can contribute toward the revitalization of a small town – in particular, the courthouse square area. Effective revitalization has the potential to impact a city’s economy, attract and retain younger resi- dents, and benefit the local university. MARION, INDIANA The platform for this research was Marion, Indi- ana. It is a small town with a rich history of manufacturing and whose population has reduced dramatically in the last two decades to less than 30,000 people. Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) resides in Marion; it houses over 3,000 students on a 320 acre campus. Marion residents and civic leaders (aged 18-100) and IWU residential cam- pus students and administrators (aged 18-65) serve as the sample for this study (see Figure 1). DESIGN THINKING Research was conducted over a three month period concluding with a presentation to the city of Marion and the IWU administrative leadership. A combination of literature review, precedent studies, and data collection utilizing design thinking methods comprehensively contributed to the findings. Design thinking requires the participation of stakeholders to work alongside designers for an empathic process that eliminates risk of assumptive conclusions. Various design thinking strategies revealed preferences for revitalization by stakeholders; these strategies were conduct- ed – the Looking (inspiration), Understanding (ideation), and Making (implementation) phases – with multiple individuals. UNIVERSITIES AND CITIES “Factories have left the cities. Regional department stores have been displaced by national chains…urban universities, however, rarely aban- don their cities” (Perry & Wiewel, 2005, p. xi). This study suggests the stability of a university can contribute to successful revitalization of a small city’s courthouse square. Such influence has the potential to impact the towns’ economy, benefit the local university, retain younger residents (i.e., university graduates and Millennials), and promote a vibrant community for permanent residents of all ages.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NC Drawing Design Illustration
Divisions: Radford University > College of Graduate and Professional Studies
Depositing User: Wendy Puffer
Date Deposited: 27 Mar 2017 17:51
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2017 17:51
URI: http://wagner.radford.edu/id/eprint/293

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