Revitalizing rural areas in Alabama

Published 1:12 am Sunday, October 4, 2009

Orrville — Rural America wants its share of the tourism pie.

Through a cooperative effort of residents in the Dallas County town, The University of Alabama, Wallace Community College Selma WIRED and the Auburn Center for Architecture and Urban Studies Orrville will have a roadmap of sorts for achieving the goal.

For three days, the folks in Orrville have worked with those from the college and universities to see how they can revive themselves by identifying opportunities that can help them find a path for renewal and growth.

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Location counts for a lot, said Nisa Miranda, direcor of the University Center for Economic Development at The University of Alabama.

Then, realizing where you fall in the context of your region makes planning the next step. The plans can range from outdoor lessons on how to shoot a bow to craft days on the lawn of public buildings.

For instance, Orrville is 15 miles from Selma, the site of the Edmund Pettus Bridge; about 10 miles from Old Cahawba, the site of the state’s capital at one time and Gees Bend, which is famous for the quilt makers.

There’s no reason for tour buses headed in any of those directions to forgo coming to Orrville, said Miranda.

But Orrville has to prepare.

Graduates from the Urban Studio worked on plans using maps of the town to show how walking paths, potential housing and community centers could develop in and around Orrville’s hub.

The maps include ideas from people who brainstormed about what they would like to see in Orrville. For instance, agri-tourism, a trend that began in California nearly two decades ago, could fit in various ways — Christmas tree farms, maizes, demonstration farms, suggested Miranda.

This planning group which worked the weekend in Orrville are old hands at helping rural areas see their potential and develop and grow from it. For instance, said Cheryl Morgan, the Gresham Professor of Architecture at Auburn University, this is the 55th town they’ve worked on in the last 11 years.

“The authenticity remains but growth or tourism, this is a way to pay for what you need,” she said as she watched graduates draw in maps for a later discussion.

Orville Mayor Gene McHugh is tickled about the designs. “This will give us a plan,” he said. “Now all we have to do is find the money.”