About The Small Town Center

| Mission | History | Acknowledgements

Mission download Mission Statement pdf for printing

"It is our vision that by raising an awareness of the physical
environment through research and design we may strengthen and empower communities to promote a prosperous and enduring livelihood."

The Small Town Center (STC) is a research unit within the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University. It was established in 1979, responding to its geographical position within a rural landscape and to the school's focus on the American Small Town. The Small Town Center develops interactive educational projects in local communities and researches the issues of small towns and communities across the nation. The mission of the center is to:

  • Influence public policy on the built environment,
  • Provide towns and communities with a current and active resource center for design issues,
  • Show communities the ability of the design process to discover underlying assets and obstacles to growth and development,
  • Encourage the devlopment of public space and life within towns ans communities,
  • Promote the maintenance of healthy and flourishing towns and communities,
  • Expand the role architectural research and education in small town design,
  • Promote the role of architectural research and education in small town design,
  • Promote collaboration between community members, students and faculty to tackle the problems and oppotunities in small towns,
  • Become a national forum for issues of small town design.

We must develop strategies to make our small towns vibrant with the promise of economic growth and the promise of a high quality of life for all Mississippi citizens. Small communities are separated by distance and the limited resources that a small population offers. Our communities aspire to share in the potential of economic stability and growth and be provided safe, livable and meaningful environments to raise their families. With industrialization of agriculture, industrialized delivery systems and the globalization of our economy, our small towns are often by-passed and challenged to endure.

Today's challenges require us to find solutions that are unique to a place and its people. As we drive through the Mississippi landscape, it is not uncommon to see inadequately built or maintained infrastructure, or abandoned buildings and sub-standard living conditions. There are many regions and towns in this state exhibiting signs of healthy and unified communities; there are also many that do not. We must work towards a larger community which assures that each citizen may hope to prosper and benefit from an inspired community life. We must work together to create stable, safe and healthy towns that reveal their unique heritages and diverse values. One of the greatest challenges our leaders face today is the need to find ways in which rural communities can find economic stability, growth and achieve a high quality of life.

The security of economic vitality varies greatly from community to community in Mississippi. It is estimated that at least 25 percent of the U.S. population resides in rural areas; in Mississippi the majority of the population resides in rural areas and small town communities. In our state there are very few agencies and planners available to assist small towns and address the unique challenges of rural communities. The industrialization of agriculture has left many rural communities without an economic base. However, it also has left these communities with assets including infrastructure, built structures, access to natural resources, and most typically, an important sense of community and commitment to place. Unfortunately, rural communities have limited resources, typically no city planners or related assistance, and limited access to information and the means for implementation.

Central to the practice of architecture is an appreciation for the character of a people and its place. Architects offer creative and practical skills towards improving the environments in which we live, work and meet. By identifying community needs and addressing how they might be accommodated with existing resources such as abandoned buildings and underdeveloped sites, or by organizing a community towards a shared vision, working with local leadership and partners, it is possible to establish the means for self-sustaining and empowered communities.

The Small Town Center believes in the value of good design, which brings order and meaning to the built environment, in support of a higher quality of life. With focused attention to the quality of the built environment, communities can become self-sufficient, prosperous and increase their economic value, thus insuring a healthy future. Housed since 1979 within the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University in Starkville, the Small Town Center is committed to partnering with its faculty, students, alumni and other Mississippi agencies with citizens of our small towns. It is our mission to provide architectural design guidance, build partnerships with others to better serve community needs, and provide leadership and support to those committed to improving the public realm.

In our work we find that small towns provide rich opportunities for architecture students to learn; towns benefit from focused attention to their problems. The Mississippi landscape offers many opportunities to address a range of real needs in small towns and rural communities, and through them provide opportunities for faculty, students, practitioners to explore an expanded role for architectural education. Architecture is strengthened by embracing a larger mission which involves others.

The Center provides assistance to communities with community planning and economic development issues, building renovation projects, design guidelines, design-build projects, and projects that address human service needs such as housing, job training, childcare, GED and youth programs. Additionally, the Small Town Center offers educational programs to the public. Our architectural students have much to learn from communities; architects have much to offer to communities. So much can be achieved and collectively we can search for solutions to our challenging community dilemmas and issues.

The Small Town Center is a research unit within the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University, a Land Grant institution. It assumes the mission of contributing to the preservation and enhancement of the quality of public life in the American Small Town. The Center was founded to focus and coordinate activities related to small towns and to serve as a catalyst for small town design issues within the University, the State, the Region and the Nation.

The Center for Small Town Research and Design (now the Small Town Center) was officially dedicated in October, 1979 making formal a commitment to the American small town which was identified from the day the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University began operation in 1974.

The School perceived, from the beginning, that Mississippi and the surrounding region, comprised primarily of small towns, offered a setting where small town problems and their solutions could be identified, discussed, studied and illustrated.

Gradually, as the School matured, small towns were investigated through student projects as part of the classroom and design studio experience, by means of grants and contracts provided to students and faculty by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Council for the Humanities, numerous Mississippi towns, individual Mississippi architects, and through private support of individual faculty willing to give their time and energy to the Center.

Today, the Center continues its mission through grants and contracts from organizations such as the Applachian Regional Commission, the CREATE Foundation, The Hearin Foundation, and, as always, the dedication and energy of numerous School of Architecture students, Mississippi small towns, private architects, and concerned citizens.



We wish to acknowledge all of those who have donated their time and resources towards the efforts of the Small Town Center.

In 1979, the Center was established under the leadership of Dean William McMinn with a special focus on the American small town, responding to the School of Architecture's location in a rural landscape. Over the years, faculty such as Jim Barker, Michael Fazio, Robert Craycroft, George Parsons and others have participated in projects and helped to shape the direction of the Center. Dean John McRae, Associate Dean Jim West and Charles Calvo have been instrumental in making the Small Town Center possible in recent years.

Shannon Criss was appointed as Director in 1996, with Professors Nils Gore and John Poros providing leadership on specific projects. We thank the many students who have developed projects through coursework and a special thanks to those that have recently been employed in the Center: Benji Armstrong, Brian Bassett, Jennifer Clynch, Ryan Dingus, Jennifer Dobson, Chris Dorin, Gloria Garcera, Joe Hagerman, Wes Harp, Dylan Karges, Matt Lam, Matt Lee, James Martin, Sigrid Ostlund, Laura Smith, Mike Sprader, Jennifer Wegmann, and Brian Wiginton.

In recent years, the Mississippi State University Office of Research has been very supportive; we wish to give a special thanks to Dr. Robert Altenkirch. A partnership with MSU's Stennis Institute of Government has been so valuable and we are grateful to Dr. Marty Wiseman and Daye Dearing for it. Michael Clayborn from the CREATE Foundation has shared our vision for northeast Mississippi and has provided support for a number of projects. A partnership with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has been instructive and valuable and we give a special thanks to Ken P'Pool and Michelle Weaver-Jones. We thank Bobby Martin, president of People's Bank, who has been very supportive. And, most recently, the Mississippi State Legislature has designated appropriations to support the Center, which is most appreciated.

The programs of the Small Town Center are provided in part through the generous support of:
The Appalachian Regional Commission
Michael Barranco Architects
CREATE Foundation
The Phil Hardin Foundation
Fannie Mae, MS Partnership
Bobby Martin of People's Bank
The Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation
Mississippi State University Office of Research
Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government
The Mississippi State Legislature

The Tennessee Valley Authority