Visioning Works Both Ways

Below is a letter written to a number of newspaper editors in South Dakota by design:SD team member Sandy Dickenson of Vermillion, SD.  Hope you enjoy it:

I recently had an opportunity to be a volunteer on the first “design:South Dakota” team. The team consisted of architects, engineers, planners and rural developers and was the result of collaboration between the Rural Learning Center, the South Dakota Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and others.  The community selected was Corsica, SD, population about 650.  The team of twelve spent nearly three days in Corsica living with host families.  We learned about the community one day, drew up visioning ideas the second day, presenting them to the community the third.  I think the townspeople were very pleased with the results.

The most surprising part of the exercise was what I learned.  I am unarguably citified but have spent a fair amount of time visiting many of the communities in South Dakota.  I thought I knew this state pretty well…….boy, was I wrong!  My vision of rural South Dakota was completely blown away.  Here’s what I learned:

Rural folks are not “stuck in their ways”.  I saw recent innovations in agriculture and learned new terms like “value added agriculture”, “no-till farming” and “anaerobic digester”. We visited a hog farm that was powered by the methane from the waste.  Hog farmers are fanatical about cleanliness and disease control.  A change of clothes is required going from one building to another.  They don’t even smell bad.

Farmers care about the environment.  I was under the impression that farm chemicals were a huge problem in rural areas.  I learned that all of the chemicals required to keep my city grass green is probably a bigger polluter.  Farmers in Douglas County work hard to protect the land and use natural products when possible.

Every place is some place special.  A family in Corsica has accumulated one of the largest collections of vintage automobiles and antique farm equipment in the country.  They are all in pristine condition and can be viewed for the asking.  Corsica is home to a large horse sale barn that draws people from around the world.  400-500 people visit every month on sale weekend.  There is a great recreational lake with a 9-hole golf course where you can play all day for $10.  Astonishing stuff.

Rural economy is not hurting (at least here).  Corsica is very prosperous.  Sure they would like to do better and want managed growth but the unemployment rate is low and the community is clean and well kept. Businesses come and go, just like everywhere else, but there seems to be at least “one of everything”.  The schools are terrific.

I was proud to be part of the “design:SD” team and I think we did help Corsica to envision a better community, but our vision of rural South Dakota will be forever changed.  Visioning certainly works both ways.  Hopefully, there will be more.

Sandra Lea Dickenson, AIA
Vermillion, SD


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