Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Spring 3-19-2020


Arens, Austin. 2020. A Design Framework for Rural Community Prosperity. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Austin Arens 2020.


In rural America, particularly the rural Midwest, the salad days of the distant past seem to be turning from realities into memories. Shrinking populations, ailing infrastructure, and a general decline in quality of life over the past 50 years have left many small communities thinking critically about their future. These social and economic pressures have acted as a call to arms for a few rural communities across the Midwest, especially in the state of Nebraska. The community of Valentine, Nebraska, situated at the crossroads of two highways that span the continent, a regional hub for every household within a 2 hour radius, and the epicenter of the Sandhills cowboy culture is one such place. A Nebraska Department of Transportation project set to repave the town’s entire Main Street from storefront to storefront in the spring of 2021 has led to big ideas about the town’s future. Leadership at local levels sought out the help of students and faculty in the Department of Landscape Architecture and the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska to help facilitate a democratic community input process and translate the town’s ideas into physical design. This thesis project examines the processes, ideas, and design outcomes from a comprehensive town planning exercise done by students, faculty, design experts, and community members for Valentine, Nebraska over a two year period. Data, information, maps, and research were collected from multiple site visits, digital townhall meetings, and a three week-long student living experience in Valentine. This comprehensive town planning and design strategy will serve as a replicable model for community prosperity and renewal efforts across rural America.