Date of this Version
Tangeman, Caitlin E. "[Un]building the Rural: The Strategic Subtraction of Sidney, Nebraska" Master of Architecture Thesis, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2017
This thesis focuses on the decline of rural communities and how rural decline might be addressed through design.
Rural decline is a phenomenon affecting rural territories around the globe, including the Great Plains. Rural decline has been caused by a number of factors, perhaps the most persistent being the reliance on an economy that is not diversified. In the Great Plains, agriculture is typically the main source of economic income, with a significant portion of the region’s counties depending on agriculture. Mechanization of agriculture through increased technology has eliminated many jobs in the agriculture industry, since higher yields can be achieved with much less labor. The decline of rural communities represents a shift toward an increasing supremacy of urban environments through the process of urbanization. Rural areas become increasingly neglected, yet at the same time, they are required to produce greater and greater amounts of agricultural products to support growth in urban areas, effectively becoming “machines” to support urbanization. Ultimately, the mechanization of agriculture will eliminate the need for human labor, creating a condition in which the land is maintained solely by machines. In this scenario, it’s no longer necessary for humans to occupy the rural, and the only interaction humans have with the rural landscape is via logistics networks, such as the interstate or rail, affirming the perception of the land as “flyover territory.”
Communities most at risk for decline are those with a non-diversified economy, or monotowns, that heavily rely on one source of employment. Sidney, Nebraska, is a monotown that relies heavily on the corporation of Cabela’s, World’s Foremost Outfitter, which employs nearly one third of Sidney’s population of 6,800 via the headquarters, retail store, and distribution center. Cabela’s, a unique retail type that merges shopping, museum, and recreation, creates a Disneyland effect that attracts over 1 million people to Sidney annually. The presence of Cabela’s in the small community of Sidney has spurred a significant amount of development in the town over the last several decades, and has prevented the community from facing the decline that is typical in other rural communities. However, the future of the company, and therefore the town of Sidney, is uncertain after a complete acquisition by Bass Pro Shops in October 2016. Under the assumption that Sidney will lose Cabela’s as both a source of employment and as a tourist destination, the community will undoubtedly be faced with depopulation and decline at a faster pace and larger scale than what most rural communities are currently facing.
This thesis addresses the issue of rural depopulation and decline within the changing rural condition of the Great Plains, focusing specifically on the community of Sidney, Nebraska, after the projected loss of Cabela’s. The question is not how to “save” declining communities. Rather, it is how to appropriately design for the unique condition of decline in the rural landscape. [Un]building the Rural explores the strategic unbuilding of Sidney, Nebraska, as a mechanism of transitioning the community back to the natural landscape through the implementation of a subtraction economy. New hybrid programs, related to the history and culture of Sidney and Cabela’s, as well as the Great Plains, are implemented into the community as it shrinks to ease the transition and take advantage of opportunities that arise through depopulation. Ultimately, after multiple phases of strategic subtraction, the town is allowed to revert back into a natural, agrarian state.