Tough questions. One answer is to learn from others with great ideas. Here is a great idea using community design.
Emily Pilloton is a brilliant, young activist architect (Watch her TED.com video. You'll see what I mean). Her book Design Revolution set the stage for how she works.
She and her partner have now launched the next act: They moved to the poorest county in North Carolina and created Project H Design, a strategy to put their ideas into action.
Emily describes Bertie County, North Carolina as the poster child for the demise of rural America. A place where downtowns are hollowed out - a "rural ghetto" with no shared vision for a collective future.
They have already done some pretty cool things (see photo above) Now they are teaching high school kids how to start transforming their own neighborhood through community design.
There is a New York Times article about it here.
My favorite is her appearance this past January on the comedy show The Colbert Report. Wait for the buffering - it's worth it.
I have added the Project H group website to my LikeMinded list in case you want to follow them. (I do!)
I can't imagine a group more likeminded to SafeGrowth.