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Rural Design Conference

Thriving by Design II
Achieving Rural - Urban Economic and Community Health

More than 120 people attended the Rural Design Conference: Thriving by Design II in Crookston on July 30-31, taking on nature-based tourism, local food systems, and the role of university extension, all in the context of rural communities. Thank you to all who attended and participated in the conference!

Co-organized by RSDP, the conference heard from Extension Dean Bev Durgan and Dean Tom Fisher of the College of Design, who in his keynote told attendees that the new economy provided great new opportunities to rural communities. Attendees also had a chance to visit local sustainability projects, including paddling the Sand Hill River, touring a natural play space at Crookston's Castle Park, exploring UMC's sustainability improvements, birding at a flood mitigation project in Warren, and visiting fruit trees in high tunnels in Mentor.

On the conference's second day, morning plenary panels addressed each of the conference's three themes, and then attendees participated in design oriented workshops that considered the opportunities and challenges to rural success vis-a-vis these themes. Conference attendees gained experience in using design thinking as a way to address local challenges and opportunities. (Watch this page for more reports and compilations of work done at the Rural Design Conference.)

Attendees also screened the design-oriented documentary "If You Build It," where two designers and ten teenagers in a rural Southern town created design-based solutions for community challenges, designing and building a farmers market for local residents. (If you are interested in screening the film in your community, please contact Diane Seefeldt at the Regional Partnerships at

The event was organized by NW RSDP in close coordination with UMN Center for Rural Design, University of Minnesota Crookston, and the EDA Center at the University of Minnesota Crookston, and was supported in part by the Center for Prevention's Community Engagement Innovation Funding initiative. The Extension Reconsidered afternoon Design Thinking breakout session was facilitated by Design Thinking @ College of Design.



What does design have to do with community and economic development, the priorities of most community leaders?  Places and even entire countries are turning to design to creatively solve problems and harness opportunities across sectors. In New Zealand, the country-wide Better by Design initiative unlocks better business: better thinking, better insights, better products and services, and better customer experiences. Companies, organizations, and governments there use design and design thinking to become more innovative, efficient and internationally competitive.  Communities can, too.

In fact, a design-based economy is emerging as communities and businesses turn to the innovations, problem-solving methods, and interdisciplinary creative processes of design to compete and thrive in an ever more complex and sophisticated world.

Thriving by Design II follows up on two previous events. In 2007, the "Thriving by Design" Rural Summit opened Minnesota's Statehood Sesquicentennial commemoration asking reflective questions on topics like socioeconomic and spatial choices that affect us even today. Questions about the quality of life for future generations and how the choices we make now will impact the future were also considered.

The success of the 2007 event spurred efforts to host another gathering. In 2010, the UMN Center for Rural Design hosted the International Symposium of Rural Design and brought together representatives from academia, non-profit organizations, and professionals from many disciplines to explore an interdisciplinary professional approach to addressing rural issues through design.

Design thinking can help our communities, our states, and our region
"thrive by design" in a global economy.
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