Re-inhabitation of Small Town America

15 thoughts on “Re-inhabitation of Small Town America”

  1. Although I am in Canada, many of the concerns are universal. When I moved to Central Canada from Montreal, I was in a small city of 45,000 The population had been static for years. about 80 miles away was a modest city of about 200,000 Way back, a politician offered the small city either a federal prison or university. They picked the prison apparently with the confidence that there will always be a need for prisons and they would have ensured jobs. The university town is now much more of a cultural magnet and appeal. The future looks good for one and rather stagnant for the other

  2. Some of the most charming, livable American places are small, historic towns. The Midwest (where I live now) has lots of affordable examples. Some are satellites of larger cities 10-20 miles away, often with universities/hospitals as the major employer. In addition, small towns have their own level of culture: local commerce and tourism, as well as other variables, including the presence of county government, or (if they are lucky) a small, thriving liberals arts college, for which the Midwest is well known.

    1. One thing to keep in mind… Whatever any of us may think of the current university/medical systems it’s obvious that they are profoundly broken in some serious ways – or at the very least so expensive that only ever increasing amounts of debt can keep them going in their current configuration. In a structural reform (planned or de facto) we may see some towns that depend too heavily on schools and hospitals suffer disproportionately compared to towns that are more diversified. Just sayin’.

      1. Understood. My take on the Great Recession was that cities/towns with university/medical facilities were less impacted, which is no guarantee things won’t be different in the future.

        1. I completely agree. My belief is that any town with socially/civically valuable anchor institutions and an educational culture will always be more preferable places to live, hence more viable over the long term, even if vast swaths of America are inevitably destined for drawn out decline and abandonment.

  3. Colleges have a lot more value than just serving as educational institutions. They concentrate educated people, teachers, students and researchers, and they are resistant to economic downturns. The book Middletown Revisited, the 1930s sequel to Middletown, describes how one of the things that kept Muncie, Indiana afloat during the Great Depression was the teacher’s college. Manufacturing had fallen apart, and Muncie didn’t have a lot else. The college still had students, and there was still a demand for teachers. Those kids born in the 1920s boom weren’t going to simply vanish.

  4. I live in a college town, too, and assume that life will continue to be oh so fine… until the student finance bubble breaks. Even then, since my neighbor is a state-sponsored university, it may be a place that survives on “temporarily” middle-class (formerly upper class) students who can no longer afford the prestigious private schools.

    I recently visited Chelsea, Michigan, home to “JiffyMix” home baking products. The tallest buildings in town are its grain silos. I remarked to my host that, despite D. Trump’s description of the mid-American wasteland, the downtown actually looked pretty nice. Clean. Shiny. He explained: “We’re an easy commute to U of M, Ann Arbor, but less expensive. That’s where the money comes from.”

  5. Good video. I think you’ll see more of this approach in coming years, where small towns with excellent walkable bones that are near major institutions get a look that other places don’t. In fact, there’s a lot of that taking place already in the Midwest, in and near major Big Ten university towns.

  6. Good video, I enjoyed it. But your comment “gives the town an advantage over similar places too far afield from money and culture” is spot on.

    Also, I share this video with people with some hesitation – this guy could walk into that town, buy a $60K building, start renovations, WITH CASH. The slice of Americans with $60-100K in cash lying about is small. I doubt anyone already in that town had that spare capacity. How many bored over-paid tech workers are out there?

    Should small town with good leadership start shopping themselves around to potential saviors? Maybe, that isn’t such a bad idea. Or it could go badly.

    This is not meant as a criticism of the video or what those people did. Only a sobering thought.

    1. It’s a better idea to attract one new resident at a time, who has some cash on hand, wants to start a small business, live somewhere pleasant, and may not care if they’re fiscally self-sufficient right off the bat, than to spend millions courting a new walmart or bass pro shop. It’s better for the new resident to have a residence that’s perfect for them where their commute going down just one floor, than to commute from the central valley to san jose becuase that’s the only way they’ll own a home, even on a high-skills income.

      1. “””It’s better for the new resident to have a residence that’s perfect for them where their commute going down just one floor, “””

        Okay, sure. But for how many people in how many places is that going to be an economically viable option? Maybe-Just-Maybe someone could pull that off in the village in Michigan I came from; with had, and lost, a lumber yard, pickling factory, railroad, grocery store, regionally quasi-famous restaurant, bakery, … Anywhere further north of that village … no way [more than ~45 minutes from the nearest city]. At least not until you reach the far-north tourist ‘zone’ [which has its own struggles]. That is a huge swatch on in-between place.

        Again, I do not mean to be negative. I love the stories of Urban Homesteaders and Village Revitalization – good for them! But I am nagged with doubts about how widely applicable they are.

        “””than to commute from the central valley to san jose becuase that’s the only way they’ll own a home”””

        Good on the places that exist in the orbit of somewhere like San Jose – which creates an economic center of gravity.

        1. There’s an interesting throw-away comment at the beginning of the video that is telling. He walks across the street and says, “we still need some crosswalks.” Not every town can expect a savior with loads of tech money to make a difference, but small tweaks like adding crosswalks, planting street trees, and other minor civic improvements are completely within reach for even the poorest communities.

          It’s such a no-brainer proposition that it’s astonishing how few small towns make an effort on those kinds of things. Worst case scenario: you’ve spent a couple thousand dollars of the municipal budget, no new private investment occurred, but current residents are a little better off. More likely scenario: you’ve spent a couple thousand dollars of the budget, someone sees that the community cares about these places and decides to make an investment.

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