Re-Energizing a Strong Planning Tradition With a New Vision

Updated 2/8/06



At the present time, The Center for Rural Massachusetts is actively involved in ongoing projects related to more effective planning for rural and smaller communities and regions. Detailed and updated information about our work can be found on our Home and News pages.



During its first ten years of existence, from 1985 to 1995, state-of-the art work was done in regard to accommodating community growth with minimal loss of rural character, instituting open space zoning, creating vital village centers, quantifying change in rural Massachusetts, and exploring alternatives for economic development. Under the leadership of Professor Robert Yaro and Randall Arendt of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, the Large lot zoningCenter was an early proponent of smart growth.

Prof. E. Bruce McDougall assumed the directorship in 1995, followed by Prof. Jack Ahern in 2002. During the period from 1995 to 2004, CRM was minimally active and had no dedicated staff, but discussions began in regard to reviving the Center with a broader purview. However, during this time period, supportive affiliations were established with the Massachusetts Rural Development Council and the Massachusetts Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC), allowing for a focus on rural economic development and on the training of local volunteer planning and zoning officials. The CPTC program in particular has flourished and become an invaluable resource for hard-pressed municipal officials. The second change was a tighter integration with activities in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning.

The discussions on reviving CRM began in 2002, with new emphasis on the most recent and compelling innovations in planning and smart growth, and on working landscape programs to promote and retain resource-based economic activity. Working closely with UMass Extension’s division of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (NREC), with Scott Jackson taking the lead, these discussions resulted in the funding by NREC of two positions in 2004, one a forestry specialist based at NREC, Paul Catanzaro and the other a land use planner—Glenn Garber--based in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, the traditional home of CRM.

Thanks to the foresight and generosity of Extension and LARP and their recognition that there must be a comprehensive, forward looking approach to the challenges discussed herein, CRM is starting to once again become a vital force and a voice in Massachusetts.

St. Albans, VT sprawl


In its effort to fulfill the aspirations of its new initiative, CRM aims to:

  • Link community land planning and growth management together more closely with natural resources analysis and agricultural and forestry conservation strategies.
  • Become an ongoing and readily accessible repository for the latest research into tools and techniques in planning and smart growth; agriculture, forestry and other working landscape-related activity; and non-regulatory strategies for balancing development and preservation, including public private/public partnerships.
  • Work collaboratively, not competitively, with governments, trusts, non-profit and educational organizations.
  • Find the most effective and efficient ways to make its work available to public, private and non-profit beneficiaries.


Quoting from the draft vision statement for the “new” Center, principally authored by Dr. Jack Ahern:

CRM focuses on the intersection of natural resources conservation and planning to achieve multiple community goals. CRM recognizes the inter-connected nature of the ecological, social, and economic health of rural communities. CRM’s mission is to develop new models for vibrant, rural communities to guide them to make informed decisions using cutting edge tools when planning growth, protecting resources, fostering local economic development and maintaining rural character.
Clustered village
The Center for Rural Massachusetts is an integrated program involving a core group consisting of UMass Extension, the Department of LARP and the Department of Natural Resources Conservation. A larger advisory group will be formed to collaborate with CRM…

CRM is directed by a faculty member of the Department of LARP, who reports to the Dean of the College of Natural Resources and the Environment, and staff and collaborators who report to the Natural Resource Conservation Division of UMass Extension.

CRM conducts research and outreach to address land use and economic development issues in rural and suburban communities. This is accomplished through close collaboration of faculty, students and Extension staff. CRM concentrates its efforts on rural Massachusetts communities while engaging the broader issues of suburban sprawl and sustainability from a national and international perspective. CRM actively pursues external funding to support and expand its mission.

CRM as part of UMass Extension applies the research and teaching of the University to generate and communicate knowledge and create innovative approaches, methods, and tools for addressing critical issues facing rural communities. CRM and UMass Extension links the Massachusetts Land Grant University with a larger community of people in collaborative partnerships to address issues of fundamental importance to Massachusetts, the nation, and international audiences.

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The Center for Rural Massachusetts || A Project of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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