Gregory attends APA Policy and Advocacy Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C.— As part of his responsibilities as president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association, Carl Small Town Center community planner Thomas Gregory recently attended the American Planning Association’s Policy and Advocacy Conference in our nation’s capital.

Professional planners from around the country attended the annual event, which provides participants with an in-depth look at the latest federal and local policy issues and demonstrates how these issues can influence and impact planning decisions within local communities.

A strong focus of this year’s conference was on the country’s housing crisis and the role of planning in addressing the crisis. Additional topics included autonomous vehicles, inclusive growth, community fiscal health, federal resiliency, and hazard planning policies.

Highlights from this year’s conference program included the Daniel Burnham Forum on Big Ideas, sessions on APA’s Planning Home initiative, the announcement of APA’s 2018 Great Places in America, and Planners’ Day on Capitol Hill, in which planners meet with their Congressional representatives.

While in Washington, D.C., Gregory met with staff members from the offices of Senator Roger Wicker, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Congressman Gregg Harper to discuss APA’s policy agenda and to advocate for Mississippi planning initiatives.

CSTC helps create vision for Meridian’s Wechsler School

By Whitney Downard

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN, Miss.—In recent months, the Wechsler Foundation has made strides in preserving the Wechsler School in Meridian, which was the first brick school in Mississippi built for black students using public money.

The school needs new mechanical systems and rehabilitation to bring it to its former glory, but the foundation hopes to get the community involved in plans for the school.

On Tuesday evening, the foundation invited community members, many former Wechsler students themselves, to express their hopes for the school. With the help of the Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at Mississippi State University, the foundation will develop a plan for the historic landmark using input from the meeting.

Thomas Gregory, with the Carl Small Town Center, said he, the center’s director Leah Kemp, and three students will assist in finding a shared vision among community members and Wechsler School stakeholders.

“We work with the Wechsler Foundation to come up with ideas and try to understand what the community wants to see at that site,” Gregory said. “The work that we do revolves around community involvement.”

Edward Lynch, the president of the Wechsler Foundation, said that he wanted to build something that the community needed, not something that would go unused.

“What we don’t want is to build a nice facility that nobody wants to use,” Lynch said. “Something needs to be there that people have to come to (Wechsler) to get.”

Joann Hooper, a former Wechsler student and board member, recalled some of her memories at the school, including book fairs, annual plays and a May Pole on May Day.

“The community needs to be revitalized,” Hooper said. “We don’t need people to talk, we need people to be committed.”

For Rev. Greg Moore, also a former student and board member, the neighborhood flourished with the school.

“I can name 10 accomplished professionals raised in that neighborhood,” said Moore, who lives near the school and wore a Wechsler shirt to the meeting. “The atmosphere of Wechsler exceeded Wechsler itself.”

The ten gathered community members discussed the best uses for Wechsler, debating the value of a history museum documenting Meridian’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, a business incubator, education courses or art classes.

Following the meeting, Gregory said the center would take some months to draft a final plan for the foundation to use and implement. The plan would include funding streams, alternate uses for the building and more.

“Part of our challenge is to take the myriad of ideas and find something sustainable,” Gregory said. “Obviously the community is very excited about the project and had a lot of great ideas.”

Lynch, though encouraged by the meeting, said one of the barriers to the project will be communication with the community.

“We have to develop the vision and then be able to sell the vision,” Lynch said. “We would have liked to have a few more people here but the people here were great… I think we’re really onto something.”

Kemp and Gregory present at 2018 MML Annual Conference

BILOXI, Miss.—The Carl Small Town Center’s Leah Kemp and Thomas Gregory presented at the Mississippi Municipal League’s Annual Conference in Biloxi on Tuesday, June 26.

The session, entitled, “Community Connections: Creatively Linking Key Destinations through Transit and Pedestrian Infrastructure,” discussed the impact that walkability has on a community’s health and economy.

Kemp and Gregory used case studies from successful CSTC projects in Marks, Aberdeen, and Ripley, Mississippi to illustrate the creative ways that communities have linked destinations in their towns through bike and pedestrian pathways.

The Mississippi Municipal League is a voluntary group of Mississippi cities and towns whose mission is to serve its members through legislative advocacy, benefits programs, training and educational opportunities, and multiple publications.

CREATE Common Ground students implement design project in Ripley

Photo, left to right: CSTC community planner Thomas Gregory, student Rayce Belton, Mayor Chris Marsalis, student Shelby Jaco, assistant professor Silvina Lopez Barrera. Not pictured: student Nada Aziz.

RIPLEY, Miss.—Each year, a community in Northeast Mississippi is selected from a pool of applicants to participate with the Carl Small Town Center’s CREATE Common Ground class. CREATE Common Ground is the result of a partnership between the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) at Mississippi State University and the CREATE Foundation, which began in 1998.

The course seeks to engage both students and municipal leaders in the community design process to begin thinking about design issues and opportunities. This year, assistant professor Silvina Lopez Barrerra and CSTC community planner Thomas Gregory served as instructors for the course.

Ripley, Mississippi was chosen as the 2018 CREATE Common Ground project as a result of an ongoing partnership between the Carl Small Town Center and the Ripley community. Students met with Ripley mayor Chris Marsalis and Ripley Main Street director Elizabeth Behm to identify opportunities for design interventions around the Tippah County Courthouse square.

Architecture students Nada Aziz, Rayce Belton, and Shelby Jaco developed schematic designs in early spring, which were presented to Mayor Marsalis and Ms. Behm during a community review in March.

Working with these local leaders, the team selected a narrow alley connecting a public parking lot to South Commerce Street as the site where the design intervention would be implemented. The students then combined their ideas and developed a singular design for the alley improvements.

On April 19, the students and instructors traveled to Ripley and spent the day installing handcrafted overhead light fixtures, which provide much needed light in the dark space. The students also painted a unique design on the freshly washed concrete surface to create interest.

Finally, wayfinding signage was made and sent to the City of Ripley to be affixed to the walls leading into the alley to let pedestrians know how to access the parking lot and courthouse square.

The CREATE Ripley project serves as a great example of how the design process can be used to help solve small town problems by combining creativity, hard work, and a little bit of money.

Ripley To Receive Comprehensive Data-Driven Vision

Photo: Ripley citizen Jerry Windham discusses plan with MSU architecture students.

by Jed Pressgrove

STARKVILLE, Miss.—NSPARC and the Carl Small Town Center at Mississippi State University have partnered to create an in-depth strategic plan for the rural town of Ripley, Mississippi.

The NSPARC-sponsored plan, which will be informed by a wide variety of data, will include a comprehensive vision for the community of Ripley, specific recommendations, and details on how to implement aspects of the plan. The document will reflect both NSPARC’s commitment to data science and the Carl Small Town Center’s dedication to community engagement within the field of architecture and design.

“This plan can help Ripley innovate and thus increase its economic competitiveness,” NSPARC Executive Director Mimmo Parisi said. “Data science will continue to play a key role in inspiring rural communities to evolve.”

“The partnership with the Carl Small Town Center and NSPARC in Ripley is the first of its kind, but one we believe to be a model for helping other communities,” Carl Small Town Center Director Leah Kemp said. “Together, we have combined our resources to offer Ripley a comprehensive analysis and vision for its community. It helps the community on so many levels, and having this service paid for by NSPARC relieves a tremendous burden for the community.”

Ripley Mayor Chris Marsalis said the need for a plan was identified during a series of discussions that he had with a county development officer about a year ago. Since then, numerous community leaders have bought into the notion of a strategic 20-year vision to address the various needs of the town.

“I can’t really place a value on it,” Marsalis said. “Without this arrangement [with NSPARC and the Carl Small Town Center], we would not be able to receive this type of detailed direction for the town.”

Carl Small Town Center community planner Thomas Gregory said his team has spent several months communicating with the Ripley community about its needs. The dialogue started with a meeting of community leaders and representatives who identified broad needs, such as downtown design, transportation, and community appearance.

“We worked with the Ripley community to select this group of stakeholders that represented all aspects of the community,” Gregory said.

The Carl Small Town Center then had an open meeting with the community that was attended by about 35 people who grouped specific issues and solutions under the broad needs identified during the meeting described above. Gregory said these meetings reflect a bottom-up approach to plan development.

“Community engagement is at the heart of what we do in communities across the state,” he said. “We like to think of the plan as being developed by the community, with technical assistance provided by the Carl Small Town Center. We are the facilitators of the visioning and planning process.”

Marsalis said there are many facets to Ripley that have to be thought about as a whole and as individual details. This complexity speaks to the importance of having expert help, especially in a non-urban setting.

“It’s a holistic approach to small-town operations,” Marsalis said. “The Carl Small Town Center brings architectural and planning expertise that small towns don’t have compared to big cities.”

Both NSPARC and the Carl Small Town Center think Ripley’s future will be brighter than ever.

“This project will give Ripley the knowledge and the tools to transform their ideas into reality,” Parisi said. “That’s what data can do for any community.”

“Once the new comprehensive plan is finished in summer 2018, the community will be able to leverage grants and other funding to implement the projects outlined in the plan, ultimately bringing economic success to the overall community,” Kemp said.

Kemp, Gregory participate in Public Interest Design Institute

NEW ORLEANS — Carl Small Town Center director Leah Kemp and community planner Thomas Gregory recently participated in a two-day seminar hosted by the DesignCorps SEED Network that focused on the emerging public interest design movement within the field of architecture.

Joined by nearly thirty planning and design professionals from New Orleans and the surrounding area, the Carl Small Town Center team reviewed case studies of successful public interest design projects and learned about the methodology used by the SEED Network to evaluate and certify projects.

Kemp and Gregory also presented successful public interest design projects completed by the Carl Small Town Center in three Mississippi towns, including a master plan for the Baptist Town neighborhood in Greenwood, plans for a cultural trail in Marks, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements in New Houlka.

In addition, as a result of his participation in the two-day institute, Gregory received certification as a SEED Professional. Participation in the Public Interest Design Institute enhances the professional skills needed to proactively engage communities in design projects.

The SEED Network’s mission is to advance the right of every person to live in a socially, economically and environmentally healthy community.

The Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at Mississippi State University, was founded in 1979 to help address issues faced by Mississippi’s small towns.

Carl Small Town Center team gains new director, community planner

Leah Kemp and Thomas Gregory

STARKVILLE, Miss.— Mississippi State’s Carl Small Town Center is announcing its new leader and welcoming another to the team.

Leah F. Kemp was promoted to CSTC director in July, while Thomas R. Gregory III officially began his new role as the center’s community planner at the start of the fall semester.

Prior to assuming the center’s directorship, Kemp served for six years as assistant director and one year as interim director. At MSU, she also has served as an adjunct professor, visiting assistant professor and instructor in the College of Architecture, Art and Design.

A Mississippi Registered Architect, Kemp also has practiced in Washington, D.C., and Nashville, Tennessee. She holds a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Virginia Tech, as well as a master of architecture from Tulane University, where she received a commendation.

Additionally, Kemp is a member of multiple professional organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, and the national American Planning Association and its Mississippi chapter. She also is a Mississippi Heritage Trust and Mississippi Main Street board member.

In her new role, Kemp said she will continue serving as a leader, partner and educator in public interest design for MSU’s School of Architecture. Being a strong advocate for meaningful design in small towns is another of her top priorities, she said.

“My goal is to make the Carl Small Town Center the foremost thought leader in small town issues as they relate to the built environment,” she said. “Because we have the unique challenge of serving the majority of Mississippi’s small towns, I’d like to see our center help address more complex issues that are shared challenges among our Mississippi communities.”

Gregory is a 2005 MSU business administration, construction management and land development bachelor’s graduate who also minored in economics and political science. He returned to his alma mater after serving eight years as chief administrative officer for the City of Greenwood.

In that role, he was instrumental in writing grants, administering projects, and implementing the comprehensive plan for the city under the leadership of Mayor Carolyn McAdams.

“When I worked for the City of Greenwood, we partnered with the Carl Small Town Center to create a master plan for the Baptist Town neighborhood, and I witnessed firsthand the transformation the center’s work had on that community,” Gregory said. “As a former client of the Carl Small Town Center, I was impressed with the quality of work it produced and the success it had in improving the quality of life for Baptist Town residents.”

A Master of City and Regional Planning graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gregory is licensed by the American Institute of Certified Planners and is a member of the American Planning Association and Congress for the New Urbanism, among other professional groups.

Through his new role as the Carl Small Town Center’s community planner, Gregory said he is looking forward to “helping Mississippi’s small towns create a vision for their communities and providing tools to bring their vision to reality.”

“As a member of the CSTC team, I am excited to be a part of the transformational work we are doing around the state,” he said.

Fred E. Carl Jr., a major Mississippi State benefactor and the Carl Small Town Center’s namesake, is a Greenwood resident who founded and served as the first president and CEO of nationally recognized Viking Range Corp. A one-time architecture major at MSU, he endowed the university’s statewide community design outreach program in 2004.

For more on the College of Architecture, Art and Design, visit; its Carl Small Town Center at or

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at