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Thread: Are there some small towns that just can't be saved?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    Are there some small towns that just can't be saved?

    I am frankly not sure at this point that there is anything that can be done to save this town into the future. The town has a group of people who do not like one another, a central business district in sorry shape, a general lack of committment by the city council to want to clean up blight, etc.

    There is no group of younger people, 25-40 coming up that will lead. They all leave. Its like the perfectly bad combination of people and circumstances.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I've been asking myself the same question for about three years now

  3. #3
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Having done quite a bit of work in small towns, and places that think they are small towns, I would say the answer is yes, some places are not able to be saved nor do they deserve the effort. Ask yourself, how and why did it become this way, and if locals don't want to live here would anyoen else?
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  4. #4
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Just curious what town you're talking about Hawkeye? I know of several Iowa towns that I think are beyond repair without a major paradigm shift by the good-old-boys. Most of these towns are loosing the manufactering base, and don't offer many stores or services. People are out of work, properties go to h$ll, and crime goes up, and it is like a train wreck you just can't stop, short of somebody coming in and making some major investments. But, someone would have to be a risky fool to do that.

  5. #5

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    Of course. The landscape is littered with "ghost towns" already. It is a perfectly natural process that some human settlements prosoper, or at least endure, while others fail.

  6. #6

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    semi-o/t, but Harper's Magazine the past two month has been running a serialized novella about a woman, "Happy Masters," a "Collectable Dolls Mogul" who swoops into a decrepit upstate New York town and decides that the town will be her next "lifestyle magazine" project. She begins buying up properties and throwing her weight around. For example, she buys and closes hte nasty old IGA-type supermarket and reopens it as a gourmet market. Pretty funny little story.

    Maybe you need to find a Happy Masters? Since Iowa is not the East Coast, maybe you can find a philanthropic country music star?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    My read on the agricultural parts of Iowa is that if the small town is on or very near a major or semi-major highway and has an active elevator with good rail service that it will likely endure (ie, Farnhamville, IA) and those small towns not on rail lines and accessable only via minor roads and highways, and/or without any other attractive attributes, will likely disappear.

    It is basic micro-economics at work and is repeated all over, not just in Iowa.

    Not only that, but throw in a bunch of old fogies whom are all set in their ways and hostile to each other and that will drive the younger crowd out and create yet another ghost town even faster.

    Mike

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    I see you are from Wisconsin...I want to know what the secret of small town Wisconsin is. Towns like Black Earth, Sauk City, Mt. Horeb are all VERY nice compared to any comperable sized town in Iowa.

    My theory has been that the agricultural interests to do rule your state the they do in Iowa and that small towns are supported more by the state. Or maybe the people just care more.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm....

    There is a lot of sociology and psychology involved with any answer to this thread's question I'm currently working in a place filled with people that chose to live here in order to "escape" the rest of the world. I'm constantly reminded of this by residents that are upset at potential changes and growth. The psychology of why people live where they live is a VERY UNDER studied area of planning/psychology (talking about the BIG picture here). American Demographic magazine seems to have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle, but I'm not sure anyone has really tried to put it all together in a study of some kind. Anyone out there want to do a journal article with me for the JAPA?

    Culprits for why we live where we live:

    1. Family (momma's boy or daddy's girl syndrome )
    2. Economics (cost of living/jobs/education)
    3. Fear of change (psychological fear of moving...what kind of phobia is this?)
    4. Quality of life (environment/recreation)
    5. Court orders and ankle monitoring
    6. Mental Illness and escaping society (This will be the title of our paper)
    Skilled Adoxographer

  10. #10
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One

    Culprits for why we live where we live:

    1. Family (momma's boy or daddy's girl syndrome )
    2. Economics (cost of living/jobs/education)
    3. Fear of change (psychological fear of moving...what kind of phobia is this?)
    4. Quality of life (environment/recreation)
    5. Court orders and ankle monitoring
    6. Mental Illness and escaping society (This will be the title of our paper)

    I'll add:

    Lack of transferable skills (ie woodsmen/fishermen)
    Cost of moving and reestablishing self. Easier to stay put when you know you can't sell your house and it is paid for anyways.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  11. #11
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    small towns? hey that can happen everywhere - it's why I chose not to live in the Syracuse, NY area and do planning

    I do think that there are places that meet your list but if you slug away at baby steps you may still feel like you are doing some good planning "stuff" - it's really a personal issue, if you feel no sense of return from your work, you have to weigh that with personal quality of life issues

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Kinda OT?

    Quote Originally posted by donk
    I'll add:

    Lack of transferable skills (ie woodsmen/fishermen)
    There are some jobs located in places due to unusual/"ideal" environments for certain things. For example, Corpus Christi/Port Aransas (TX) have a marine biology education/museum thing going. There is something similar in Sequim, WA -- a tiny town which, due to unusual marine biology stuff going on there, merits an outpost of the National Laboratory in Richland, WA (on the other side of the state!).

    There are also businesses which need certain natural resources or other geographic criteria.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hawkeye66
    I see you are from Wisconsin...I want to know what the secret of small town Wisconsin is. Towns like Black Earth, Sauk City, Mt. Horeb are all VERY nice compared to any comperable sized town in Iowa.

    My theory has been that the agricultural interests to do rule your state the they do in Iowa and that small towns are supported more by the state. Or maybe the people just care more.
    The villages you mention here have a couple things going for them. Most importantly, they are all very close to Madison, one of the most desirable communities in the United States, which is rapidly becoming an expensive place to live. The other asset they have is an attractive physical environment.

    I could probably point to communities in Wisconsin that may not survive, but comparatively, I think there are many more as you go further west. Iowa has a good share, but Nebraska has more. Minnesota has some, but North Dakota has more. Distance from population centers and natural amenities are as important as an interstate location in determining which communities survive.

    You hit on a few good indicators of success. Community leadership, a younger generation of residents, and cooperation are all signs of hope.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by The One
    There is a lot of sociology and psychology involved with any answer to this thread's question I'm currently working in a place filled with people that chose to live here in order to "escape" the rest of the world. I'm constantly reminded of this by residents that are upset at potential changes and growth. The psychology of why people live where they live is a VERY UNDER studied area of planning/psychology (talking about the BIG picture here). American Demographic magazine seems to have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle, but I'm not sure anyone has really tried to put it all together in a study of some kind. Anyone out there want to do a journal article with me for the JAPA?

    Culprits for why we live where we live:

    1. Family (momma's boy or daddy's girl syndrome )
    2. Economics (cost of living/jobs/education)
    3. Fear of change (psychological fear of moving...what kind of phobia is this?)
    4. Quality of life (environment/recreation)
    5. Court orders and ankle monitoring
    6. Mental Illness and escaping society (This will be the title of our paper)

    Coming from Upstate NY, it makes me wonder why the bleep that people stay there. Unless you are involved in education, or are fortunate to get one of the few IT jobs bouncing around there, there literally is nothing to sustain life there, especially if you are under 40 and have any kind of education. Based on observation, I'd go with 1, 3, and maybe the want to own your home (not a 12 by 70 single wide on a 25 by 100 lot) and the inability to do so in many other parts of the country.
    It's not me

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    The villages you mention here have a couple things going for them. Most importantly, they are all very close to Madison, one of the most desirable communities in the United States, which is rapidly becoming an expensive place to live. The other asset they have is an attractive physical environment.

    I could probably point to communities in Wisconsin that may not survive, but comparatively, I think there are many more as you go further west. Iowa has a good share, but Nebraska has more. Minnesota has some, but North Dakota has more. Distance from population centers and natural amenities are as important as an interstate location in determining which communities survive.

    You hit on a few good indicators of success. Community leadership, a younger generation of residents, and cooperation are all signs of hope.
    I'll echo the fact that all of the places that you mentioned are essentially Madison suburbs.

    I too am somewhat amazed that many of Wisconsin's little places are hanging in there and even thriving compared to similar places in Iowa. The biggest factor that I can sense is that Wisconsin has a much more diverse economy than Iowa. It's not just all grain elevators and related agricultural uses here, uses that are easily rationalized and centralized. I would also have to include far better state highways than Iowa and more attractive scenery (for the tourism aspect of the economy) in Wisconsin as factors as well.

    NOW, I do know of parts of the state where the smaller places are dieing just as fast as in Iowa (the west-central, northern and far northwest parts of the state have most of the ghost towns in the making), but despite the warts of the taxation and regulatory reality of the state, most smaller Wisconsin places are doing OK.

    Mike

  16. #16
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    I'll echo the fact that all of the places that you mentioned are essentially Madison suburbs.

    I too am somewhat amazed that many of Wisconsin's little places are hanging in there and even thriving compared to similar places in Iowa. The biggest factor that I can sense is that Wisconsin has a much more diverse economy than Iowa. It's not just all grain elevators and related agricultural uses here, uses that are easily rationalized and centralized. I would also have to include far better state highways than Iowa and more attractive scenery (for the tourism aspect of the economy) in Wisconsin as factors as well.

    NOW, I do know of parts of the state where the smaller places are dieing just as fast as in Iowa (the west-central, northern and far northwest parts of the state have most of the ghost towns in the making), but despite the warts of the taxation and regulatory reality of the state, most smaller Wisconsin places are doing OK.

    Mike
    Wisconsin is a great state and the little towns just have a different way of living than larger cities. I agree what a combination of social factors can have a dramatic effect on these small municipalities. However they can still offer a wide range of incentives to the outside world. If the city was constructed in a pedestrian friendly manner, that helps. Social events just as town fairs, farmers markets, art shows, and such that create a strong sense of community can be a phenomenal asset.

    Depending on the resources, donít rule out tourism. Door County WI for example still have a small town feel, yet thrives off a few small manufacturing sector jobs (building Yachts) and small town tourism. Use the resources available. Sometimes itís water, sometimes itís Amish, sometimes its the people of the town. Everyone has something to offer.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  17. #17
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    What your town is lacking is a strong community leader that is capible of bringing folks together. This was also the case in the last town I worked. The town wasn't divided like yours, but very apathetic. This person is usually a long time resident that has the respect of the folks who do not agree with them. Unfortunately these leaders either exist or they do not.
    ďAs soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fallĒ
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  18. #18
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    I have ruffled many feathers (probably yours too, Herky) by saying my Iowa town will only grow at the expense of your Iowa town, and that is what I am trying to accomplish.

    It is a simple fact of economics and demographics, nothing personal.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TOFB
    I have ruffled many feathers (probably yours too, Herky) by saying my Iowa town will only grow at the expense of your Iowa town, and that is what I am trying to accomplish.

    It is a simple fact of economics and demographics, nothing personal.
    No, it does not really ruffle mine, because if we had the right combination of things going for us, it would not matter what others do. There is a view in Iowa that the Des Moines-Ames Corridor and the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Corridor are pulling all the workers and capital from the rest of the state. I am not sure that's true.

    While I do think we some macroeconomic factors working against us, it could still be overcome to a great degree by good leadership, having an identity to build upon. Our town is next to a state park with two lakes, lots of trails, etc. These are things that appeal to many people. Its a matter of willing to change. I told council that the town is on the edge, and it needs a shake-up and soon. But my council has only two members under 50 and our mayor is 66. Not exactly the types that usually go for change.
    Last edited by Hawkeye66; 16 Aug 2006 at 3:45 PM.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hawkeye66
    No, it does not really ruffle mine, because if we had the right combination of things going for us, it would not matter what others do. There is a view in Iowa that the Des Moines-Ames Corridor and the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Corridor are pulling all the workers and capital from the rest of the state. I am not sure that's true.

    While I do think we some macroeconomic factors working against us, it could still be overcome to a great degree by good leadership, having an identity to build upon. Our town is next to a state park with two lakes, lots of trails, etc. These are things that appeal to many people. Its a matter of willing to change. I told council that the town is on the edge, and it needs a shake-up and soon. But my council has only two members under 40 and our mayor is 66. Not exactly the types that usually go for change.
    I would love to see data on where the DSM and CR/IC growth is coming from, but I suspect it is coming from the smaller towns outside the commuting rings.

  21. #21

    Small Towns

    Just as there are successes - there are failures. I just saw a post on the 8055 e-newsletter noting a study in Nebraska that indicates half of the counties in that state have a death rate higher than their birth rate and most of those have a demographic profile that puts their over 65 folks at 30% or more.

    The APA Journal ran an article a couple of years ago called "Smart Decline" which talked about how regions and the nation as a whole needed to grasp the reality that some communities will not make it so the need to develop good policies in dealing with that reality was a necessity.

    I agree.

    Rod Proffitt

  22. #22
    Perhaps they cannot save themselves, but there is someone that can save them.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    Perhaps they cannot save themselves, but there is someone that can save them.
    Yes, there will always be a small town somewhere that has a wealthy benefactor show up and invest millions to make it boom again. What would that be, one in 50,000?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  24. #24

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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Yes, there will always be a small town somewhere that has a wealthy benefactor show up and invest millions to make it boom again. What would that be, one in 50,000?

    Happy Masters, Equinox, see Harpers Magazine the past two months

  25. #25
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Yes, there will always be a small town somewhere that has a wealthy benefactor show up and invest millions to make it boom again. What would that be, one in 50,000?
    You don't need to invest millions to make a city prosperous. Just a few small businesses can keep the place going. If the city is attractive enough to keep entrepreneurial people it's economy will do fine.

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