Bozeman: A Blessing and a Curse

27 thoughts on “Bozeman: A Blessing and a Curse”

  1. Johnny,

    It’s been a little while since you wrote this, but I’m going to reply anyway.

    We seem to have a problem here in the Information Age – assuming that’s what we’re now in. As you mentioned above, a lot of small towns in America are dying: businesses have closed and the young people are moving away. But, as Bozeman seems to show, the arrival of prosperity oftentimes doesn’t seem to help the locals. All it does is make local housing unaffordable for them. Compare and contrast with the Industrial Age. In Detroit’s heyday, circa 1950, a man with not much education could get a job with benefits at the local Ford/GM/Chrysler plant which enabled him to buy a home, a car of his own and allow him and his family to take holidays.

    What happened? How can we get back to something nearer that? And no, I don’t think higher taxation is the answer.

    1. People seem to forget that industrial workers were initially made up of European agricultural peasants (surfs, slaves, “commoners” who were driven off the land after the Enclosure Acts in England, victims of famine, etc.) who found themselves desperate enough to take jobs in coal mines and textile mills at starvation wages.

      The well paid factory workers Americans remember with such fondness today didn’t exist until fairly recently. My own great grandfather was a Sicilian immigrant who lost both his legs while on the job and was immediately fired. No pension. No “sorry.” No nothing.

      People also forget the bloody fights between workers who attempted to organize for better pay and safer conditions vs. management and Pinkertons (hired thugs) who aimed to suppress wages and keep workers docile.

      That all changed largely as a result of the Great Depression and WWII. The inability of global society to find a happy medium created the extremes of communism and facism. Once the dust settled new attitudes and compromises were embraced. Now that the last of the people who remember the Depression and war are gone we’re going to have to experience a new set of crises and resolutions.

      The prosperous factory workers of the 1950s were an historical anomaly. What we have today with low wage disposable labor with no bargaining power is much closer to “normal.” So is the social and political antagonism.

  2. In cold weather driving range will be reduced. Any battery available now has fewer amp/hours when below 45 deg F and drops further at lower temps. Factor in the electricity required to heat the passenger cabin and it will be necessary to recharge sooner.
    Also I have read reports from Tesla drivers that there is sometimes trouble getting the charging cable to make a good connection to the car’s socket in sub-freezing conditions.
    This might not matter so much if one had a heated garage.

  3. Such a depressing post. That ugly new “architecture” invading charming Bpzeman. And then even worse the ugly, depressing urban sprawl and the condos and Super Target. It reminds of the hideous exurbs of Denver.

  4. Johnny – I like your mostly-thoughtful piece and have watched this Californication happen first hand. But your “stagnant economy” understanding is pretty far off base. Bozeman is one of the most entrepreneurial communities in the country (per capita, of course!) Some of this I would ascribe to inbound people from elsewhere…but mostly to the can-do spirit of native Montanans…and those of us who have espoused their ways rather than bringing bad habits with us from elsewhere.

  5. I grew up going out to Montana as a kid. My grandparents owned a 400 acre ranch in bridger canyon. I always wondered why they hated the Californians. Now I know why.

    I’ve watched this town grow into a California shithole over the years, all because these assholes can’t stay in their own yuppie towns after they ruin them. Montana was once a wild and beautiful place; celebrities and yuppies are slowly killing it. It is truly a tragic occurrence.

    1. You know… not that long ago there were other people who lived in Montana who loved the land and had their own way of life. That all came to an abrupt end when the cavalry and conestoga wagons showed up. They were even worse than the yuppie scum from California.

      1. Yes, their way of life was ceaseless war on other tribes and a hunter nomad society that. om the context of growth, was fortunately for them, self limiting. Having no organized society leads to lower life spans.

  6. I’m still puzzling over how a “stagnant” small town economy can support such a high median home price. Especially given that the median income is still below national average. Can “new money” sustain this? Is this a bubble in the making?

    1. There are two separate issues. Many small towns in rural America are on death’s door as young people move away, the population declines, and the economy contracts. My mother-in-law was born in such a town in Nebraska and the buildings are caving in on themselves after decades of abandonment. When new money arrives the town has a chance to reinvent itself. But the gap between what the locals can afford from wages and what the new economy demands creates tension.

      1. Not only that, the ‘median sales price’ also represents new entrants into the city – the majority of the existing residents of ‘stagnating small towns’ bought many years ago – and their houses are not anywhere close to the new median.

        What creates tension is the entrenched local power structures being dwarfed by the new money not beholden to them. Before new money came to town, there was probably a small handful of families who had a ‘million’ dollars who ran the place, officially or not. The new people dropping $400k and up just on their house probably don’t know or care who those people were….

  7. Seventy years from now young people may rejoice in their good fortune to find an original 2018 townhouse with original fixtures intact!

    With the quality of modern construction and imported fixtures from low-wage manufacturers, a fully intact 2018 townhouse in 70 years might justify a call to the Vatican Miracle Commission.

    That bocce ball court is absolutely brilliant protest. It looks like a house-shaped hole in the lawn. Anybody walking or driving by will be reminded how ridiculous the codes are until they are changed.

    Protests to maintain useless ugliness like that old stroad are just heartbreaking. Tustin is trying to put a street near its old downtown on a road diet and it’s meeting the same kind of protests. Gotta keep mowing down the kids and lowering property values!

  8. For some reason one revelation I get from this post is that we North Americans have lost the ability to create any other kind of architecture. If it’s cookie-cutter complexes are big box shopping centers you want, no problem. But no one any longer knows how to build something that has lasting meaning, like a courthouse or other stately structures.

    We love Bozeman for the wholesome of the downtown and the pristine unspoiled state of the surrounding countryside – but somehow we can’t keep ourselves from automatically beginning its demise with all the usual crappy commercial packaging. We seek these places out for their creativity and innocence, but then immediately start destroying those very elements.

    How to tread lightly and in concert with our environment instead of bringing all our old baggage with us?

    1. Yes and no. I’ve learned (painfully and slowly) to let go of my own fussy desires to see new charming Main Street towns built again. It ain’t gonna happen. Instead, the crappy low grade suburban stuff will eventually mature into something different a long, long, long time from now. Some of it will fail and decay. That’s okay. Some of it will be reinvented into something fresh and wonderful we can’t imagine today.

      Here’s one example. The rows of suburban townhomes out on the edge of town have a continuous series of wide garage doors along quiet side streets. There’s no physical reason those garages couldn’t become mom and pop shops if society decided that was desirable. So the cookie cutter garden apartments and suburban condos could be walkable mixed use fine grained walkable villages without any radical new construction. Ain’t going happen in my lifetime, but this is exactly the trajectory that played out as mansions from the 1800s were carved up into small apartment buildings and the front lawns were bumped out and turned in to shops. Is that Heaven or Hell? Depends on who you ask… Give it another century and we’ll see.

    2. drewster – that’s not entirely correct. I know many new-newer buildings (built within the last decade) that are decent to well executed ‘stately’ public buildings.

      University of Michigan’s North Quad – http://www.annarbor.com/assets_c/2010/08/080510_UM_NORTH_QUAD_1_LON.JPG-thumb-590×393-49724.jpeg

      University of Michigan’s School of Public Policy – http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jeda/UniversityOfMichiganPhotos/UMGeraldFordSchoolOfPublicPolicy.jpg

      Arlington Heights, IL (NW Chicago suburb) – Village Hall – http://eea-ltd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/EDIT-_DSC3429-2-600×345.jpg

      Here’s one built in 1981 in my small city’s downtown – http://www.medina-gazette.com/image/2016/12/21/x600_q65/21526580.jpg

      Those are just some examples that we (architects, builders, developers, etc) can do stately and well portioned buildings (large and small), but it takes caring and willingness to design/build for the long term not just for the deprecation tax right off.

      1. Jonathan, I think that universities tend towards the “stately” just because they want to appear that way. It’s the nature of the beast concerning “higher learning”. Most, although not all, new buildings lack a classic appearance. It’s not that they cannot be built that way; just that the bottom line is usually the final arbiter concerning how they will be built and appear….

      2. Jonathan,

        we can do stately and well portioned buildings, but it takes caring and willingness to design/build for the long term…

        I totally agree. Right now we can, but largely we don’t. It comes down to what’s important to us: convenience when satisfying our immediate needs (food, clothing) or reflection on future and perhaps deeper needs. Modern buildings tend to talk to our stomachs while classic architecture speaks to our souls. We can still have the one but not at the expense of the other.

        I fear that just building the cheap and easy for too long at a stretch may cause us to eventually forget how to even draw the ponderous and beautiful. Again, it’s about what we value.

  9. Re: Your last paragraph:

    Back in the 60’s my parents rented an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for $110 a month, in a neighborhood that is now available only to millionaires. A few years ago I walked past their old building and mentioned to my mom that I thought the neighborhood, full of old Beaux-Arts brownstones, was beautiful. She wrinkled her nose and said “Really? We thought it was old and tacky.”

  10. That people are leaving the Bay Area is certainly true. As a long time homeowner here I could shift to pretty much anywhere I wanted short of perhaps NY. As you noted, Montana winters are brutal, so I sometimes think about Port Townsend in Washington- in the rain shadow so not quite as wet as Seattle, but a cute little town, albeit grey and chilly all winter long. Still, lower costs and no state income tax.

    What is a shame is that California is losing so many of these people when there are plenty of towns that are inexpensive and would allow you to live small town lifestyle while working “wired”. Susanville or Bishop would offer a Montana like lifestyle. Eureka or Ferndale a Northwest like lifestyle. If you want the midwest without the humidity, there are towns in the Central Valley with nice old neighborhoods with lovely old homes on tree lined streets. And the ever popular Gold Country has towns as cute as Vermont. However, you’ll continue to be taxed as a Californian, so when leaving the Bay Area many want to get out of the state altogether, which is a loss.

  11. “Subaru Repair”. Did you get photos of the Volvo, BMW, and Land/Range Rover specialists? Or have they not arrived yet?

    1. It’s Bozeman, Montana. Subaru was known for durable all wheel drive vehicles in places like Bozeman and Burlington (Vermont) long before they became any kind of status symbol (like Volvo, BMW, and Land Rover).

      1. Yup, Subaru is an interesting vehicle with a certain utility. My comment was about the people that buy them, and the other brands, for a perceived image. It’s fascinating to see them in SoCal where 4wd is needed about as often as a refrigerator/freezer at an Antarctic research station. Sort of like those that put on thick down jackets when the temp goes slightly below 65 Deg F.
        Oh, and forgot to ask about Tesla. Have they been sighted in Montana?

        1. I didn’t see any Teslas while I was in Montana. Perhaps it isn’t the same fashion statement there as in other locations. Or more likely the -40 F in winter would do bad things to the batteries.

          1. Or maybe a Tesla with snow tires or chains wouldn’t convey the same imaginary cowboy image as a Mercedes Gelandewagen. The low ground clearance might also be a problem on unpaved roads.

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