A new book from the Center for Economic and Community Engagement and Virginia Tech Publishing, housed in University Libraries, examines Virginia’s urban-rural continuum and offers practical guidance for communities striving for a more resilient and prosperous future.

“Vibrant Virginia: Engaging the Commonwealth to Expand Economic Vitality” presents a multifaceted glimpse into the many ways that regions across the commonwealth are working to culti­vate strong, robust, and inclusive economies and how seemingly dissimilar localities may be experiencing very similar challenges.

“It may seem easier to focus on the chasms that exist in the wonderfully diverse combination of counties, towns, and cities across Virginia, but doing so would mean we miss an opportunity to collectively think about, work on, and create solutions with far-reaching benefits,” co-editors Margaret Cowell and Sarah Lyon-Hill say.

Cowell is associate professor of urban affairs and planning in the School of Public and International Affairs, teaching courses on economic development, community resilience, urban economics, and public policy. Lyon-Hill is associate director for research development at the Center for Economic and Community Engagement, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

The book cover for Vibrant Virginia: Engaging the Commonwealth to Expand Economic Vitality, edited by Margaret Cowell and Sarah Lyon-Hill, shows three images: two of Virginia cities and one Virginia landscape.

The book includes 15 chapters by scholars and practitioners with deep knowledge of the issues affecting the commonwealth today. They explore urgent topics such as expanding K–12 education reform, encouraging entrepreneurial ecosystems, supporting refugees and immigrants, and expanding broadband access.

"Recent elections show that we are living in a highly contested moment. Of course, we have lots of reasons to be concerned about political divisions and also the inequalities that have become so very visible during the pandemic,” Cowell said. “But I also think this moment provides a unique opportunity and the chance to rethink whether these divisions serve us well. What are the ties that bind us and what might be possible if we think more holistically about how Virginians connect and complement one another?”The book grew from the center’s Vibrant Virginia initiative, a university-level program started in 2017 to help higher education be a better partner around the commonwealth and promote scholarship across its urban-rural spectrum.

The initiative supports faculty members in conducting projects with community partners in both urban and rural regions, strengthens strategic relationships between the university and regional stakeholders, and develops scholarly products about development policy — a strategic expansion area for the university.

The co-editors, smiling in their respective offices.

“We see our work as part of the university’s ability to impact positive change in communities everywhere,” said John Provo, director of the Center for Economic and Community Engagement. “What has come into focus with the Vibrant Virginia project is we are uniquely situated to help tackle and identify challenges and solutions in the urban-rural continuum across Virginia.”

Over the course of two years, the Vibrant Virginia team held 15 community conversations and three campus conversations and provided funding for seven seed grants. The book will close out the initiative’s first phase, representing the culmination of Vibrant Virginia’s early efforts.

“Our goal was to curate a collection of writings that would include both practical experiences and scholarly contributions related to Vibrant Virginia; seek to ‘con­nect the dots’ between learning, discovery, and engagement; advance the important work being done at Virginia Tech and other colleges and universities in Virginia; and celebrate the communities, stakeholders, and government officials with which we regularly collaborate,” Cowell and Lyon-Hill wrote.

To ensure the widest possible readership, “Vibrant Virginia” is being published in both digital and print editions. The eBook (PDF and ePub) can be downloaded for free from the Virginia Tech Publishing website. An affordable paperback can be purchased from Amazon.

“It was important that this book be read as widely as possible, so we decided early on that cost would not be a barrier to access,” said Peter Potter, University Libraries’ director of publishing services. “We want to continue the conversations started in those earlier community and campus conversations, in order to make a difference in communities throughout the commonwealth.”

An illustration of a tree, house, and stones.