Toward a Sustainable Non-Urban

MFA Thesis, SVA Design for Social Innovation, 2014

Predictive modeling estimates that by 2100, 90% of the world’s population will live in cities, which has engendered an eager global dialogue about the future of cities and urban sustainability. To me, an equally urgent, parallel conversation is, what happens everywhere else? What happens to all of the places that are not – and do not become – cities? The places (and people) that are non-urban? This project begins to create a narrative about non-urban sustainability, motivated by three convergent trends:

  1. Non-metropolitan counties make up over 80% of U.S.
  2. New technologies are disrupting our economic relationship to geographic place.
  3. A hypothesis that a growing group of well-educated, creative young professionals – primarily women – are actively opting for a life in rural areas instead of urban centers.


thesis poster

empathy test 2

Resilience is as much about listening as it is about action, which means giving the land a voice in the conversation, so that the co-creation is not just humans, but also between us and the land. I wanted to create a visual language that reunites nature and metaphor. I went mining for shapes. I harvested visual elements of the natural environment from photos and other artifacts  I traced the images, cut the shapes on a lasercutter, and hand printed them as relief prints, integrating quotes, stories, and insights that I collected from my research and interviews.


piecing together solo-01


user journey all text-07

A common tool in design research is a ‘user journey’ map that uses narrative to identify needs and opportunities. This is just an iteration of the Hero’s Journey, a central mythological construct. Here, I have re-imagined the hero’s journey for a young woman who, “Partially in defiance of the American Dream she sees crumbling before her, and partially to seek out where it has been lost in order to reclaim it, returns to its well-spring – rural America.”


photo4 (1)