MSU’s Carl Small Town Center to receive CIRD workshop funding

October 24th, 2014 Comments Off

Via Leah Barbour | MSU Public Affairs

When Chickasaw County community leaders contacted Mississippi State University’s Carl Small Town Center, they wanted to discuss ways to connect the Tanglefoot Trail to downtown Houston and the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The CSTC is the service and research arm of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, and the center works with officials, citizens and organizations to improve quality of life in towns throughout the Magnolia State, said Leah Kemp, CSTC assistant director.

Houston is the southernmost community along the Tanglefoot Trail, she explained. At present, the end of the 44-mile, rails-to-trails cycling/pedestrian pathway is a vacant lot, but Houston leaders want to change that.

“There is currently no way for cyclists to get from the trail to the nearby downtown or the Trace,” Kemp said.

CSTC leaders chose to apply for a competitive Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design workshop funding, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, because connecting Houston’s tourist attractions should boost tourism and benefit neighborhoods, Kemp said. In late July, the CSTC learned Houston was one of only four communities in the nation to receive the award, which will enable CSTC to host a rural design technical workshop this fall for the town.

“We and our partners in Houston recognize that this area has wonderful potential; we also recognize that this CIRD program will provide the necessary expertise that Houston needs,” she said.

The CIRD funding will fund a two-and-a-half day workshop in Houston, with CIRD providing design expertise and technical assistance valued at $35,000, according to CIRD officials. The CSTC-Houston team will receive additional training, both before and after the workshop, through conference calls, webinars and other web-based resources. Topics include community engagement, rural design, partnership development and workshop planning.

CIRD is a National Endowment for the Arts initiative that collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Project for Public Spaces, Inc.; the Orton Family Foundation; and the CommunityMatters Partnership to sponsor design experts’ work in rural communities.

To qualify for the CIRD funding, towns must have populations fewer than 50,000; only two towns and two counties were selected. The Mississippi community is the only one in the Southeast, and it’s the smallest–only 3,562 residents. Other funding recipients are located in Franklin, New Hampshire; Oregon County, Missouri; and Lancaster County, Nebraska.

“The selected communities demonstrate rich potential for leveraging partnerships to take action on a wide range of rural design issues,” said Cynthia Nikitin, CIRD program director and senior vice president of project for Public Spaces, Inc. “Rural design is a valuable tool for citizens to use to build on existing assets and improve their community’s quality of life and long-term viability.

“The workshop will provide national experts in design-related fields that can help develop a tangible vision for how to connect the trail to the downtown, as well as provide a way that Houston can bring economic development to its town by capitalizing on the trail.”

For more information about the CSTC, visit

Learn more about CIRD at

Painting the town in New Houlka: School of Architecture featured on WTVA

April 4th, 2014 Comments Off

See this  story and more at

NEW HOULKA (WTVA) — MSU architectural professor Emily Roush Eliott and her student Katherine Ernst are on their way to making the square around the New Houlka City Hall just a little bit brighter.

“I’m really excited about it because we have worked really hard on this,” said Ernst.

She’s excited because she is putting into practice what she has learned in class at Mississippi State.

Her professor is not there to just watch, she’s working too.

They are practicing what’s called public interest architecture.

They’ve chosen New Houlka to create a bike path around the town that leads from the increasingly popular Tanglefoot

“The big need that we heard was that the community of New Houlka wants more people, more activity, more business downtown, ” said Eliott.” As a group of architecture students and professors, we’re not going to open a new restaurant. But what we can do is try to help attract people,” she continued.

And it appears they’ve come up with a way to do just that.

“Now we are at the very beginning phase of a bike path because we wanted to start with the Tanglefoot and then bring a path that runs all around the square,” said Ernst.

They presented their idea to city leaders who welcomed them with open arms.

“The yellow part going around the trail is for bikes,” explained New Houlka Mayor Jimmy Kelly. “And then the white is for walking people who are walking around the trail. And then every so often, there will be circles, little signs pointing out things in town like an ice cream parlor,” he concluded.

As you might imagine, officials here in New Houlka are thrilled with the project saying that it will only enhance what has been a good thing for the City and that is the Tanglefoot Trail.

“I’ve heard from the people of Houlka that its been so busy. I heard that last Saturday the deli that opened just next to the Trail sold out completely,” the MSU professor said, smiling.

“The Trail has been more of a draw than I though it would be when we first started talking about it,” said Kelly.

The “Paint the Square Project” is expected to be done by the end of April and is a project of the Create Foundation’s Create Class program.

It is also supported by the MSU College of Art, Architecture and Design as well as the Greenwood-Leflore Economic Development Foundation.

National Enterprise Rose Fellows visit Mississippi

March 17th, 2014 Comments Off

group pic web

Mississippi State hosted the national Enterprise Rose Fellows on Tuesday, March 4.

Fifty current and past fellows met in the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, current fellow Emily Roush Elliott’s project location.

(Elliott is co-hosted for her three-year stint in Greenwood by the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation and the Carl Small Town Center of the School of Architecture at Mississippi State).

Afterwards, the current fellows headed to Starkville to work with Elliot’s class – co-taught with Leah Faulk Kemp, assistant director for the Carl Small Town Center – and present their projects before a larger group of MSU architecture students.

A “Fat Tuesday Feast” was held after the presentations for the fellows, faculty and students.

See the photos.

CSTC to host Fat Tuesday Feast

February 25th, 2014 Comments Off

On March 4, current Enterprise Rose Fellows will visit the MSU School of Architecture to lead discussions and present their work and projects from around the United States.

Architecture students are encouraged to join in the discussions and learn about different paths to follow after graduation and what the Enterprise Rose Fellowship entails.

The presentations will start at 4 p.m. in the Robert and Freda Harrison Auditorium in Giles Hall. Afterward, all are invited to join the fellows for a Fat Tuesday Feast.

Carl Small Town Center to host design seminar for public officials

February 17th, 2014 Comments Off

cstc-red-logoThe Carl Small Town Center (CSTC), a research center housed within the School of Architecture in the College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State University, is hosting a “Design for Public Officials” seminar.

The event, which is open to all North Mississippi public officials and persons interested in improving their communities, will focus on the value of good design for towns located in the state’s Hills and Delta regions. It will be held at The Inn at Ole Miss in Oxford on Mon., March 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The seminar will provide public officials with useful and applicable knowledge, including the tools to become advocates of good design for their communities. Attendees will also learn what’s needed to be successful in planning and economic development projects for tourism, recreation and job recruitment.

Topics will include the value of good design, transportation, rural sustainability, and creative economy and tourism.

Speakers will be Bob Barber, former planner for the city of Hernando; Heather Deutsch, bicycle program specialist with the District Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.; John Poros, rural sustainability expert and director of the CSTC; and Kennedy Smith, community development and revitalization expert with the Community Land Use and Economics Group out of Arlington, Va.

Attendees will earn two Certified Municipal Official (CMO)) credits. The registration fee is $30 before March 14 or $45 after March 14.  Lunch is included in the workshop.

Public officials also are encouraged to bring ideas and information about their local projects to discuss with panelists during the project sharing session.

For more information about the seminar, contact Leah Faulk Kemp at 662-325-2304 or For more information about the CSTC, visit

Get the registration form here.

Read the story on MSU’s website.

Good year for Baptist Town project leader

January 13th, 2014 Comments Off


The architecture fellow heading the Baptist Town Project said she’s had a productive first year on the job in 2013 despite some major setbacks.

Emily Roush Elliott said she hopes to continue making tangible progress in 2014 while also broadening the scope of her work. She’ll be co-teaching a course at Mississippi State University this coming semester.

Elliott, an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow, is co-hosted for her three-year stint in Greenwood by the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation and the Carl Small Town Center of the School of Architecture at Mississippi State.

Elliott said her first year of the fellowship, awarded by Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit design company, focused almost exclusively on executing work in the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood.

Starting this week, Elliott will be commuting to Starkville as well, where she’ll co-teach a course on community design with Leah Kemp, the assistant director of the Carl Small Town Center. Elliott said the course will focus on giving students real-world experience in using design to improve the quality of life in one Mississippi small town.

The Carl Small Town Center, which focuses on rural design and planning, is named for Fred Carl Jr., the founder and former CEO of Viking Range Corp. Carl endowed the center with a $2.5 million gift in 2003.

Elliott said the CREATE Foundation, a Tupelo-based nonprofit dedicated to regional development in Northeast Mississippi, provides a grant to the Carl Small Town Center to teach the class. This year, CREATE asked Elliott and Kemp to choose a community along the new Tanglefoot Trail, a 43-mile rails-to-trails project.

“We biked the trail, which was super fun, and ended up choosing a town called New Houlka,” Elliott said. “It’s a really small community. I don’t know much about it yet, but they’ve been really receptive to us.”

Over the course of the semester, the students in Elliott’s course will focus on getting to know the residents of New Houlka and creating designs to address their needs. Elliott said that in years past, the end result was usually a book of plans, sketches and blueprints for the town to implement on its own.

Although Elliott said compiling designs will play a role this year, she’s hoping the students get their hands dirty and actually carry out one of their recommendations.

“What we’re doing differently this year is that we’re saying, especially in these really small towns, (a book of plans) is often not enough to get people going,” Elliott said. “What we’re going to try to do is see if we can get a little energy going and hopefully give students a little more hands-on experience. As we’re getting these big ideas, we’re also getting small ideas, and we’re going to pick one and implement it.”

The project the students tackle, Elliott said, might not even fall into what most people consider architectural. It may be something as small as repainting New Houlka’s fire hydrants with a vibrant new design that brings a little life to the town.

Elliott calls that “doing something real,” a mantra she’s also brought to her work on the Baptist Town Project. Elliott said the Economic Development Foundation has had a master plan, produced by the Carl Small Town Center, on file since 2010 but hadn’t made many steps toward turning those lofty ideas into tangible results.

When she came on board at the beginning of the year, Elliott soon learned that the grant funding for the project, provided by the Foundation for the Mid-South, was set to expire in July 2013.

“I started Jan. 1 thinking I was going to do new housing, rehab housing, build a community center, parks, entryways and infrastructure over my three years,” Elliott said. “It turned out all the funding I’d gotten for that was over the first six months.”

Elliott said she realized she’d have to focus all her energies on completing one aspect of the project and quickly zeroed in on using donated Katrina cottages as affordable housing units in the historic but largely impoverished neighborhood in Greenwood.

Elliott said it was extremely difficult when a number of setbacks, including the failure of a bill in the Legislature to allow the city of Greenwood to donate the cottages, resulted in the Economic Development Foundation losing the grant and the project being delayed.

Elliott didn’t give up on the cottages project and continues to work toward getting it back on track. She said, however, the last thing she wanted to do was sit around and do nothing after that idea hit roadblocks.

So she set to work and has been busy building new sidewalks and putting up new street signs and neighborhood entrance markers in Baptist Town. Five MSU architecture students came to Greenwood in May.

Working with Brantley Snipes, a landscape architect and the executive director of Main Street Greenwood, they designed and built a small “pocket park” at the corner of McCain Street and Stevens Avenue. In October, volunteers from GE Capital built a new playground in a park on Avenue A that Elliott planned with extensive input from neighborhood children.

“We got a lot accomplished,” Elliott said. “There are some very visible signs of progress that continue to happen in Baptist Town.”

As her fellowship continues, Elliott said she hopes to effect further improvements in Baptist Town but also broaden the focus of her work. Working with the Carl Small Town Center, Elliott would like to look at projects in other areas of South Greenwood, to work with other towns in the state facing similar issues and possibly even partner with state agencies to improve the design of low-income housing developments.

“A lot of people think being a good-looking place is just about aesthetics, but, especially at a neighborhood or city scale, it’s a lot more than that,” Elliott said. “It’s about inspiring people to spend their money there, buy houses there or live there at all.”

Collaborative Studio ends semester with ribbon cutting ceremony

December 11th, 2013 Comments Off

web ribbon cutting 12022013_24

Philadelphia bus shelter and students with MS Band of Choctaw Indian Chief Phyliss J. Anderson. Steve Murray, planner for the MS Band of Choctaw Indians, said the design has been well-received. “It looks like it’s got elements of the Choctaw culture,” he said, adding that the design looks like a basket.

web ribbon cutting 12022013_39

Tucker bus shelter and students

Second-year building construction science and architecture students have been working together this semester in a collaborative studio with Professors Lee Carson, Alexis Gregory, Hans Herrmann, Emily McGlohn (all architecture) and Tom Leathem (building construction science).

Throughout the semester, the students researched, designed and constructed two bus shelters for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

On Dec. 2, students and faculty from the Collaborative Studio celebrated at the two locations at Pearl River and Tucker.

The group was joined by first-year architecture and building constructions science students and faculty; Dean Jim West; Michael Berk, director of the School of Architecture; and Dr. David C. Lewis, director of the Building Construction Science Program. Also present were Steve Murray, planner with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians;  the Tribal Council and other representatives; and Chief Phyliss J. Anderson.

Anderson welcomed and briefly addressed the group before the ribbon cutting.

“It’s always a blessing to have a relationship with the institute of education,” she said, adding that the bus shelter project is something that the students should be very proud of.

The chief then presented College of Architecture, Art and Design Dean Jim West with a handmade basket.

West thanked Anderson and said the on-going partnership has been a win/win for the college, and he explained some of the other projects the college has worked on with the MS Band of Choctaw Indians.

The first project was in 2009 when the college’s Carl Small Town Center assisted the tribe in preparing a Transit Plan with funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program.  The study was used to support several projects, including the new Transit Maintenance Center, which was recently completed.

Herrmann’s class constructed the first bus stop for Bogue Chitto a few years ago, and this year, two more bus stops were designed and built by the Collaborative Studio for Pearl River and Tucker. There are plans for more bus stops to be built for the community next year.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air to have young people come in and work with us,” said Murray. “They’ve thought about ideas we hadn’t thought about.”

Watch the video from the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Read the story on MSU’s website.

Read more about the Collaborative Studio here.

Check out the video about the class created by MSU student Nikki Arellana for a TV Production course.

Working on the shelters:


Carl Small Town Center continues making a difference in the Delta

December 3rd, 2013 Comments Off

Photo via MSU website

Photo via MSU website

By Leah Barbour | MSU Office of Public Affairs

A spirit of cross-state cooperation is causing big things to happen in a little place.

To improve quality of life in Greenwood’s Baptist Town neighborhood, Mississippi State University faculty members and students have been working over the past three years with the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation, the city of Greenwood, Jackson-based Foundation for the Mid-South, and Arkansas’ Walton Family Foundation.

Famous for housing blues legend Robert Johnson and well-known actor Morgan Freeman, Baptist Town is a historic African-American neighborhood is located in east Greenwood. Despite its rich cultural history, Baptist Town, like so many small communities in the Delta, faces high unemployment and rising crime rates.

Most recently, Baptist Town gained national attention during production of “The Help,” a 2011 film based on a best-selling novel of the same name. The story of 1960s Mississippi civil rights struggles told through the eyes of African-American maids was shot largely in Greenwood and the surrounding area.

Today, the commitment by the MSU’s Carl Small Town Center and its other partners is causing Baptist Town revitalization efforts to be realized.

The center — the research and service arm of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design — is named for Fred Carl Jr., a Greenwood native and former Viking Range Corp. owner whose major support made the CSTC possible.

CSTC was recognized with the 2011 Outstanding Student Project award of the American Planning Association for the 2010 master plan developed for Baptist Town. In 2012, the center was one of only four organizations selected to host a national Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow.

Emily Roush Elliott was chosen to implement the major components of the award-winning Baptist Town master plan.

Elliott holds a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Cincinnati, and she has worked with the MSU’s Gulf Coast Community Design Studio. The studio was established in the wake of 2005′s Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild Mississippi’s coastal communities.

John Poros, CSTC director, said the Baptist Town plan identified key needs as affordable and functional housing, safer public spaces and improved infrastructure. He and other CSTC representatives have been working closely with Elliott as she collaborates directly with neighborhood residents.

“One thing that we’ve completed recently in Baptist Town is the pocket park,” said Leah Kemp, CSTC assistant director. “The park is really a system of concrete pavers, a gravel path that goes through the park, and a series of benches made out of concrete posts and railroad ties.”

Poros said the park is located adjacent to the film home of Help main character “Minnie.” The location one of the few Baptist Town public spaces where residents may sit and talk. Other improvements include additional lighting and sidewalks, and new signage, he said.

Poros and Kemp praised Elliott for making significant progress toward meeting the master plan’s major goals: improved housing and a new community center. In addition to coordinating mortgage opportunities for prospective homeowners, they said Elliot is working with subcontractors to begin foundation construction and is coordinating all project efforts directly with the city and city-owned Greenwood Utilities.

Kemp said that, while the actual Baptist Town park design was provided by a Greenwood landscape architect, MSU architecture majors worked on all aspects of construction, including grating, digging, shoveling and pouring concrete and gravel, as well as bench building.

Poros said the park is lighted, so residents may use it during the evening.

“That’s pretty important because there’s not another place in the neighborhood like that,” he said. “The lighting is supplied by the city of Greenwood, and they’ll also be doing the landscaping at the park.”

Poros said grants from the Jackson and Arkansas foundations paid for construction materials while the CSTC provided funding to cover student labor. Several neighborhood residents, including children, also pitched in to help, he added.

“It’s really important for architecture students to understand how difficult it is to do construction, understand all the planning that has to happen in order to do a simple construction project and understand all the steps that have to be done for something as simple as this little project,” Poros said. “It’s also really important for students to get directly involved in communities and do something like this. It’s really their responsibility as professionals, and as students and alumni of Mississippi State, to get involved wherever they are.”

Belinda Stewart Architects Fellow takes first at MSU Undergraduate Research Symposium

August 8th, 2013 Comments Off

Taylor Keefer and Assistant Professor Jacob Gines visited this cotton mill in Jackson to discuss with the owners possibilities for what they can do with the site. Through her research, Keefer learned about what’s involved and the benefits to listing a building as a National Historical Landmark or on the National Register of Historic Places.

Taylor Keefer and Assistant Professor Jacob Gines visited this cotton mill in Jackson to discuss with the owners possibilities for what they can do with the site. Through her research, Keefer learned about what’s involved and the benefits to listing a building as a National Historical Landmark or on the National Register of Historic Places.

Belinda Stewart, FAIA, an alumna of the School of Architecture, recently established a student internship in the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC). The Belinda Stewart Architects Fellowship was established to afford an outstanding architecture student the opportunity to engage in design research and outreach efforts on behalf of small towns throughout the state, while honing their own design skills and gaining professional experience.

“The School of Architecture is set in Mississippi in the middle of incredible richness of design and architecture, a lot of which is in our small towns,” said Stewart. “Having the opportunity to know those structures and know why they evolved the way they did and why they were designed that way can make them a stronger architect. Whether they go on to practice that type of architecture or not, I think more and more people need to have the knowledge of what’s around them.”

The first Belinda Stewart Architects Fellow, Taylor Keefer, a fifth-year architecture student from Hueytown, Ala., spent the summer learning just that. She worked with the CSTC, Assistant Professor Jacob Gines and Stewart to research cotton mills in the state.

Stewart said her goal at her firm, Belinda Stewart Architects, is to help small towns figure out how they can have a viable future.

“Our philosophy is there’s always a way, and it’s just about helping them find that way,” she said. “Those are the kind of tools I think would be incredibly powerful for an intern … to go into communities and learn how to help them find that way.”

After Keefer had conducted extensive research that involved learning about the National Register of Historic Places and the National Historical Landmark, Stewart helped Keefer get in touch with the owners of a large cotton mill in Jackson. Keefer and Gines then visited the site to help the owners figure out what to do with the mill.

“They have a ton of ideas,” said Keefer, “But they still have to do lot of cleaning up of the site before anything can happen.”

Keefer said she and Gines discussed with the mill owners the possibility of getting a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) or Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) done of the property. They also explained the possibility of listing the mill on the National Register or getting it listed as a Historical Landmark.

After the visit and more research, Keefer presented her findings, “King Cotton,” at the recent Mississippi State University Undergraduate Research Symposium, and she won first place in the Arts and Humanities category.

Keefer learned a lot during her internship and said, “It did really show me how history, something I’ve always been interested in, really does apply to architecture and practice, not just research.”

She hopes her thesis project this year will expand on her summer research.

Click here to see Keefer’s poster for the research symposium.

Click here to see her abstract.

Keefer and Gines also mapped out on a Google Map all the cotton industry buildings throughout the state (existing, demolished and ruined) using historical data from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, “an incredible undertaking,” according to Gines. Click here to see their work.

Dean Jim West featured in Starkville Daily News

April 30th, 2013 Comments Off

Jim West, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Design, gave a presentation on the college’s statewide impact at the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday, April 29 at the Starkville Country Club.

Click to read the article by Steven Nalley in the Starkville Daily News from April 30.

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