Community and Regional Planning Program


First Advisor

Dr. Abigail Cochran

Second Advisor

Dr. Zhenghong Tang

Date of this Version

Spring 5-5-2023


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Community and Regional Planning Under the Supervision of Professor Abigail Cochran. Lincoln, NE: May, 2023

Copyright © 2023 Rebecca Virgl


The American Dream is a national ethos that states any person, with enough hard work, can succeed in the United States; it is both critique of the pitfalls of capitalism and advocacy of the potentials the system offers. Over time, suburbia has come to represent the physical manifestation of the American Dream. In the world of planning and architecture, much discussion is given to the suburbanization of the United States. The relationship between the city and the suburb is well documented, and many plans for suburban improvements focus on making suburbs more like cities, where they are more walkable, dense, and diverse. Less emphasis is given to the relationship between the suburb and the small town. Small towns across the United States are declining in population, amenities, businesses, political power, and culture.[i] Generally, this is thought to be a consequence of urbanization, but the suburbanization of the United States plays an equal in the devaluation of rural America in our shared consciousness.

The reasons for the decline of the small town have been well documented over the past several decades, the biggest being the increase in technology, necessitating fewer people needed for agricultural work and larger access to external perspectives, and brain drain, as educated young people move to larger metropolitan areas for more opportunities. [ii]-[iii]-[iv] A less commonly cited reason for the decline is media representations of suburban American compared to rural America.[v] In colloquial media, three main representational distortions exist regarding the relationship between suburbia and rural America: rural poverty porn,[vi] an overly idealized and nostalgic depictions of suburbia, and skewed depictions of Main Street.[vii] This thesis analyses the distortion of both suburban and rural communities in media as part of the desolation of rural communities. Then, it explores contemporary efforts to revitalize rural communities, culminating in the understanding of form-based code to combat skewed rural perception from media. Form-based code is developed and applied to a rural community in southeast Nebraska, Peru, NE, as part of a larger Downtown Revitalization Plan for the community, then analyzed for its efficacy in revitalization efforts.

Advisor: Abigail Cochran