University of Arkansas Community Design Center - Cultural Mappings of Cherokee Village, Arkansas, encourages radical discourse among local stakeholders
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Cultural Mappings of Cherokee Village, Arkansas, encourages radical discourse among local stakeholders

University of Arkansas Community Design Center

Special Projects  /  Future
University of Arkansas Community Design Center

“The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape.” Wolfgang Sachs (ed.), The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power What Do Architects Do with Culture? Is it possible to change a place—i.e., to plan—through the mapping of culture? As urban designers, we were given a special opportunity to explore memory and heritage surrounding place through the discursivity, conversation, and debate central to cultural mapping and its participatory-based forms of inquiry. All which now seems indispensable to us in the planning process despite cultural mapping’s near-total absence in American planning. Moving beyond the map simply as object or artwork to mapping as a process, cultural mapping as defined by communications expert Nancy Duxbury “aims to make visible the ways that local cultural assets, stories, practices, relationships, memories, and rituals constitute places as meaningful locations, and thus can serve as a point of entry into theoretical debates about the nature of spatial knowledge and spatial representations.” We employ the “deep map” to sketch a memoir of place rather different from the seeming objectivity and linearity found in conventional cartography (though we use that too). The Village cultural mapping project cuts across dominant histories defining modern-day Cherokee Village (developer economics, middle-to-upper-class homeownership, and modernism) and minor mostly hidden histories (Native American ontologies, camping and youth scouting, and Ozark settler and folk culture) used to market an affluent midcentury modern planning approach while shedding light on the diminishing returns in modernism’s approach. Cultural mappings support a separate master plan commissioned by Cherokee Village (population: 4,900), a 23-square-mile rural planned community developed in 1955. The research describes the interconnectedness of landscapes, histories, and social geographies of the Arkansas Ozarks surrounding one of America’s first planned retirement‐based recreational communities. Despite the Village’s classic midcentury polycentric road network—a nondescript cellular plan structured around automobile-oriented arterials and activity nodes—proto-modern settlement influences from indigenous, camp, and settler frontier traditions played a formative role in shaping at least the aspirations of Cherokee Village’s developer, John Cooper. The series of 54 digital drawings integrates maps, folklore materials, archival sources and photographs, with new drawings, outlining five synchronic cultural frameworks that shaped Cherokee Village—Native American heritage, Ozark pioneer and folk heritage, camping and scouting, midcentury planned communities, and regional modernism in design and planning. Content development was a collaborative inquiry among residents, community organizations, artists, folklorists, historians, architects/landscape architects, and urban designers. This critical cartography raises controversial public-interest issues like cultural appropriation of Native American heritage and the absence of social diversity in midcentury modern communities. Cultural mapping unlocks lost land development and stewardship traditions intelligence smoothed over by late modernity. Other Possible Social Worlds How might the unpacking of cultural complexity hidden in community development serve as a platform for envisioning new social and ecological planning possibilities? Here, artists and architects collaborated as 'facilitators' in framing place‐based social and cultural discourses beyond their traditional roles as creators of “end‐of‐the‐pipe” design solutions. Design research involved three processes. • Develop a comprehensive narrative structure through the five cultural frameworks identified by the community and storyboarded by artists/designers. • Assemble content from oral histories, primary sources, archived folklore material, and published histories of Cherokee Village and the Ozarks by local stakeholders, folklorists, and artists/designers. • Develop multimodal mapping strategies involving multiple literacies ranging from serial “filmstrip” narratives, to collages, “thick description” drawings that reconstruct lost local heritage landscapes, and GIS-based mappings of Cherokee Village’s built fabric. Mapping as a process encouraged radical discourse among local stakeholders in this otherwise conservative community. Professional agency was extended into the realm of citizen-based notions of belonging, stewardship, and identity management, in turn amplifying the public relevance of the deracinated or rootless design professional. This new descriptive agency among architects motivated social action through development of a new community self-awareness including correction of misinformation about place. Cultural mapping led by architects in collaboration with humanities scholars facilitated novel reparative planning directions decoupled from a dominant and homogeneous late modernity.


 Cherokee Village, Arkansas
 United States
 City of Cherokee Village
 5.956973e+7 mq
 University of Arkansas Community Design Center
 University of Arkansas Community Design Center
 University of Arkansas Community Design Center


The University of Arkansas Community Design Center is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and one of a few university-based teaching offices in the United States dedicated to delivering urban design work. Originated in 1995, the center advances creative development in Arkansas through design, research, and education solutions. Nationally recognized in public-interest design, the center has its own downtown facilities and 5-6 professional design/planning staff, some who also teach. Beyond the focus on urban projects, UACDC has developed eight place-making platforms to shape civic design and public policy at state and municipal levels. These interdisciplinary platforms include 'missing middle housing,' 'agricultural urbanism,' 'transit-oriented development,' 'context-sensitive street design,' 'watershed urbanism,' 'big box urbanism,' 'smart growth,' and 'low impact development,' vocabularies which are locally articulated but hold universal currency.

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