STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The more we get together, the happier we'll be. Just ask the community development teams from Water Valley, Mississippi State University and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The small-town Mississippi community's effort to make the most out of partnerships with MSU and ARC is generating national headlines for the town's Main Street revitalization efforts -- recent features appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine Magazine.
In conjunction with MSU's John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development and funded through ARC, Water Valley recently commissioned MSU's Department of Landscape Architecture senior design class to visit a Main Street lot and develop plans for a temporary community pocket park.
"Water Valley has an ARC grant called the Mississippi Community Action Project," said Sandra Perkins, ARC northeast regional office representative. "We had the Stennis Institute come be part of a presentation, so communities could hook into Mississippi State and the resources that they offer."
The Stennis Institute offers a variety of professional community development services, resources that rural communities often can't afford, said Mickey Howley, manager of the Water Valley Main Street Association.
"Small towns don't have this deep pocket of resources and these professional capabilities, so we're using these Mississippi State University landscape architects, students to help generate ideas. We don't have that and can't afford it, but this is how we have access to it -- Stennis and the Appalachian Regional Commission -- and it makes a big difference," Howley said.
The Stennis Institute provides services specific to what communities need, said Joe Fratesi, community development director at Stennis.
"This happened to be a need that Water Valley had, so this works out perfectly connecting them with the landscape architecture department," Fratesi said. "We work with other communities in a variety of different ways. They're not all going to get something like this because all their needs are different."
Twenty students in associate professor Taze Fulford's class developed plans to change a concrete foundation into a place for recreation, performances and/or dining, and create an inviting space, comfortable for children, tourists and residents of all ages.
"We have explored conceptually what a pocket park could look like," Fulford said. "Some of these that you're looking at are a little more temporary than others; some are a little more expensive than others, but I think everybody was asked to dream about what this place could be -- the essence of this space -- in connection with Water Valley."
By creating individual pocket park plans for Water Valley's Main Street site, each landscape architecture major's artistic ingenuity and design experience was on display.
While the group of Water Valley officials who came to campus did not immediately choose one of the 20 plans presented, the representatives did ask many questions and said they were impressed with the scope of work MSU students provided.
"We were really pleased with what we saw, even more than we expected -- really blown away by the skill and effort," Howley said.
Howley and Water Valley leaders plan to allow other residents to review the students' work, choose a plan and complete the work before summer 2013.
For more information about community development services offered by MSU's Stennis Institute, visit http://www.sig.msstate.edu. More about the landscape architecture academic program is available at http://www.lalc.msstate.edu.