Native American new urbanism: How the poorest county in America created a vision for the future of cities

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The field of urbanism puts the European city on a pedestal. There’s a sense that if we could just paste the walkable streets of Paris onto our strip malls and highways, we’d create paradise in America. What’s lost in this conception is the wisdom from thousands of years of Indigenous placemaking in North America.

On a road trip to interview farmers and ranchers for a book about people-powered solutions to climate change, I had a chance to see a Native American vision for the future of towns and cities.

My visit began in a gravel parking lot in Porcupine, South Dakota. Here on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in one of the poorest counties in the country, an unlikely revolution had transpired. Andrew “Andy” Ironshell welcomed me at the door of a portable building. He was the acting comms director for Thunder Valley CDC: A non-profit, Native American-led real estate developer.

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