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Thread: Crummy military towns: why?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Crummy military towns: why?

    Why do military base-adjacent towns so crummy? The only military towns I've been to that seem even halfway livable are Colorado Springs and Leavenworth, Kansas. Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city I enjoy, has Kirtland AFB, but it's really a minor presence in the area. Otherwise, the other ones I've visited seemed like armpits to me.

    * Alamogordo, New Mexico (Holloman AFB)
    * Havelock, North Carolina (Cherry Point)
    * Jacksonville, North Carolina (Camp LeJeune)
    * El Paso, Texas (Fort Bliss)
    * Clovis, New Mexico (Cannon AFB)
    * Valdosta, Georgia (Moody AFB)
    * Cheyenne, Wyoming (Warren AFB)
    * Goldsboro, North Carolina (Johnson AFB)

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    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Why do military base-adjacent towns so crummy? * Valdosta, Georgia (Moody AFB)
    .
    I have to agree with some of those on your list, others I have not been to. But the Moody one is not that bad. Valdosta downtown is doing pretty good for a small town. They have created a 'place' and offer some interesting downtown activites for the Public. Such as the lunch time concerts. The area is still affordable and with the location (adjacent to I-75) it is growing economically. Some of the neighborhoods there are excellent and affordable. It also has a large theme park (Wild Adventures) to the south west of town. The area bettween Moody (it is north of Valdosta) and the city is expected to develop out over the next 10 or 15 years.

    So... I may not understand your criteria, but for me the areas not an armpit, but it sure is not a bustling metro.
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    Cyburbian bocian's avatar
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    Add Fayetteville, NC to that list -- must be one of the worst cities with population reaching nearly 200,000 residents in this country. The military is 'good for local economic development' -- that is what the planning department claims in Fayetteville, but I'd say it has had a ruinous effect on that city.

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    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Add Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL to the list (Fort Benning).

    Sprawling, ugly and depressing, so bring lots of Prozac when you drive through. In a nutshell it's predominantly a low-wage/McJob economy with an appalling amount of pawn shops, pay day lenders and check cashing services that prey on military families and the usual Southern underclass.
    "I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible. I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical!" -Stephen Colbert

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    Cyburbian bocian's avatar
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    See this job description for a planner in Fayetteville to better grasp the grim depressing reality of military towns:
    http://jobs.ci.fayetteville.nc.us/listings/jobdetail.aspx?jobid=%3ckey%3e%3ccv%3e%3cc%3ep_position%3c%2fc%3e%3cv%3ePL2004%3c%2fv%3e%3c%2fcv%3e%3c%2fkey%3e

    Note the usual planning mantra claiming that what's good for the military is good for localities:

    "The recent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process will result in the relocation of the US Army Forces Command to Ft Bragg. This new Command will bring a large number of ranking officers and their staffs to the area along with many private companies who supply the Army. Their presence will have a very positive impact on the economic development of the City."

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    I suspect its the transient and low wage nature of military life. It has to hurt the long-term prospects for the community. Also, every few years the the DoD reviews which bases are closed and which ones will stay open or expand. Such insecurity must hurt financial and emotional investment.

    I grew up a few miles from an army base. The shells from the impact range still rattle my mom's house on occasion. But the community also has a state university that provides for a more stable environment. The town on the other side of the base has many more enlisted personnel and their families. There was and still is an obvious ecomonic, social and racial distinction between the two communities.

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    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Add Rantucky or I mean Rantoul, Illinois.

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    Cyburbian Plus
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    For the Jersey crew, what about Ft. Monmouth ?
    to say I never drove through the area except along the Parkway.
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    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JNA View post
    For the Jersey crew, what about Ft. Monmouth ?
    to say I never drove through the area except along the Parkway.
    I wouldn't include Ft. Monmouth for a few reasons. It's a smaller naval munitions base and radar I think. Not a boot camp and not very large as bases go for man power. The base is in a thick forest with a few scattered homes and flea markets around no real city to speak of. Many of the servicemen and civies that work there commute from other parts of the state.

    I have an opinion on why these cities turn out the way they do... it's not PC and I'll post it later.

    *Later* -

    Unlike college towns which tend to be more advanced and 'nicer' areas military cities are just that. Simply I think you just have to look at who is there. In the bases that contain boot camps you have many 18-20 year olds who haven't gone to college (less educated) and mostly male, and the machismoism flows when they get off base. There are many services that are geared to newly enlisted men and their families like the aformentioned cash checking, pawn shops, bars, strip clubs, etc. These are generally things that any town wants to avoid (I've always said if you want to upset a rich white suburban town build a stip mall and put in a check cashing store, pawn shop, and liquor store, then watch the squirming ensue). Also, bases historically have been built away from larger metropolitan areas simply because they are army bases, the activites that go on the sounds and pollution are not desireable near larger cities. In short it's the concentration of young enlisted males and their families, not knocking all enlisted men but for the most part they are right out of high school because if they went to college they would probably be officers and not living necessarily on base.

    Chew me up spit me out but I have two brothers in law (1 captain 1 PFC) that have been on bases in Manhattan KS, somewhere MO, and El Paso TX. I know they would agree with what I'm saying.
    Last edited by Tide; 09 Feb 2007 at 1:49 PM.
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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Reductionist View post
    Add Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL to the list (Fort Benning).

    Sprawling, ugly and depressing, so bring lots of Prozac when you drive through. In a nutshell it's predominantly a low-wage/McJob economy with an appalling amount of pawn shops, pay day lenders and check cashing services that prey on military families and the usual Southern underclass.
    You forgot the highlight of the town: Victory Drive -- aka "VD Drive" -- where all the hookers hang out because it is so close to the base.


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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    For the most part....

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Why do military base-adjacent towns so crummy? The only military towns I've been to that seem even halfway livable are Colorado Springs and Leavenworth, Kansas. Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city I enjoy, has Kirtland AFB, but it's really a minor presence in the area. Otherwise, the other ones I've visited seemed like armpits to me.

    * Alamogordo, New Mexico (Holloman AFB)
    * Havelock, North Carolina (Cherry Point)
    * Jacksonville, North Carolina (Camp LeJeune)
    * El Paso, Texas (Fort Bliss)
    * Clovis, New Mexico (Cannon AFB)
    * Valdosta, Georgia (Moody AFB)
    * Cheyenne, Wyoming (Warren AFB)
    * Goldsboro, North Carolina (Johnson AFB)

    Check out the Gallery for some Alamogordo photos.
    Yeah, most do seem to be "not so nice"

    I disagree about Cheyenne, that city has a lot of potential and isn't all that bad right now....I mean for a Wyoming town I thought it was ok.

    El Paso's problems are MUCH deeper than just some military base....but it doesn't help....

    What about Omaha NE? Isn't Offut AFB SAC headquarters? Granted...it is Omaha..... ..........

    Seems like most places in California with military bases that I've visited are ok.....what's Alameda like nowadays...?

    Naval Bases are always better due to the location alone....

    I wonder how the Feds came up with some of these base sites? strategic.....or more likely political issues.....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  12. #12
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I'd add Chicopee, MA to the list

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    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JNA View post
    For the Jersey crew, what about Ft. Monmouth ?
    to say I never drove through the area except along the Parkway.
    I grew up right next to Ft. Monmouth. I was often woken up by reveille playing over the loudspeakers.

    Ft. Monmouth was the home of CECOM, the communications and electronics command. Monmouth Co. is also home to Bell Labs and ATT Bellcorp. Big R&D centers. It's no accident that the three were in close proximity. Ft. Monmouth, with the exception of the Chaplain's school had always been a mostly civilian and officer/warrant officer affair.

    Monmouth County also has a population of 620,000 and Ft. Monmouth maybe had 4000 active duty personnel. Alas, those days are over as Ft. Monmouth is shutting down and moving to Maryland. The property owned by the Fort is going to be worth a fortune and will probably be a lot more beneficial to the local towns than it was as a military installation. All that office space and on-post officer housing as ratables? Oceanport, for one, is going to clean up in that department

    Naval Weapons Station - Earle, which is spread out between Colts Neck and Middletown has a similar sized presence.

    I will say, though, that the front gate of Ft. Monmouth, on Rt. 35 in Eatontown was/is a little seedy when compared to the rest of that part of the county. The same goes for Belford/Port Monmouth near the front gate of Earle. C'mon, haven't you guys seen Clerks?


    I lived on Ft. Bragg and in Fayette'nam for three years. It's the most violent place i've ever lived - and i live in the 'hood in South Philly now. Ohh the stories i could tell. I'll just keep it to me getting shot at, twice, on different occasions, for perceived, non-verbal slights. The mass-murders, the ambushes, that place is just nuts and i'm glad to have made it out of there alive.

    I'll say it, and it's not PC at all, the military attracts "T" from every walk of life. They are poorly educated, underpaid, and generally attracted to violence as a means of problem solving. Military life, especially at a training post like Ft. Bragg, is stressful for a number of reasons. The relocations and deployments are just part of it.

    Cumberland County, when i was stationed there, had about 320,000 people. 2/3 of them were military or dependent or civilian contractor (civilian contractor is often used when discussing Iraq as a euphemism for mercenary - i'm talking mechanics and clerks and the like). Ft. Bragg, by itself, had a population of 130,000.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    I used to work for the military city of Oak Harbor, WA (home of NAS Whidbey Island). I think the main struggle with these towns is the transient population, especially when it comes to tax spending. If you are only going to live in a place for a few years, you may not want to approve higher taxes because you won't be around to see the improvements in place. School systems and local improvement districts, and other tax-related ventures therefore suffer.

    In addition, large bases have many of their own amenities. The general store on the base was better equipped than our local markets, there were recreational opportunities on the base (movies, bowling, gyms, etc.), often with lower prices or altogether free. Also, State taxes don't apply on the base, so when cigarette taxes went up exponentially one year, everyone started going to the base to get cigarettes. People would buy them for others... same with liquor.

    Add to that a population where men (well, mostly men) are away from home for long periods of time, leaving a single parent household, there are limited volunteers to help local non-profits.

    It really is a unique situation, and those towns struggle as an outcome.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I would add Junction City KS. Fort Riley

    The Big Red 1 has come back and the uncheck development is insane.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jresta View post
    I lived on Ft. Bragg and in Fayette'nam for three years. It's the most violent place i've ever lived - and i live in the 'hood in South Philly now. Ohh the stories i could tell. I'll just keep it to me getting shot at, twice, on different occasions, for perceived, non-verbal slights. The mass-murders, the ambushes, that place is just nuts and i'm glad to have made it out of there alive.
    What is interesting in this particular instance is that directly to the west of Fort Bragg are the wealthy golf-resort communities of Pinehurst and Southern Pines. However, the entrance to the base is on the Fayetteville side, hence it receives the brunt of the impact.

    Also keep in mind: the City of Fayetteville has consciously decided to annex all of the development between its downtown and the base. There must be an economic benefit.

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    Cyburbian bocian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nerudite View post
    I think the main struggle with these towns is the transient population, especially when it comes to tax spending. If you are only going to live in a place for a few years, you may not want to approve higher taxes because you won't be around to see the improvements in place. School systems and local improvement districts, and other tax-related ventures therefore suffer.
    Well, college towns have transient population and most of them are not in total decline.

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    Quote Originally posted by bocian View post
    Well, college towns have transient population and most of them are not in total decline.
    And for good reason. The transient nature of military personnel and the transient nature of college students create two very different types of communities.

    The administration, faculty and staff of a college or university are often very rooted in the local community. They are often leaders in their community. Only the students are transient. You will never see an active duty military person running for public office but it very common to have university faculty or staff on City Council or other community boards. I have even seen college students on City Council. Military personnel of a base rarely are in one place more than very few years without transfer or promotion that includes moving. The military never wants you to get too comfortable in one location no matter what your rank.

    Colleges often offer cultural events that creates community whereas military bases do not so much. Larger universities also spin-off businesses from their research corporations and medical facilities and can add high paying jobs to the local economy. Many universities also attract educated and higher income retirees. Military towns often have more military retirees living near cheaper government health care on their much smaller monthly checks.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by bocian View post
    Well, college towns have transient population and most of them are not in total decline.
    Yes, but often those communities have a higher education level in those citizens that are not transient (profs, former students that stay to live, etc.), who tend to vote in favour of initiatives and regulations that may cost them more, but also lead to a better overall community. Those that stay in a college community also have higher incomes generally, who can afford the higher taxes for the nicer amenities.

    My first job was in a college town (Davis) and second in a navy town (Oak Harbor). Those two communities commonality is just about only that they both had a large transient population. It's many of the other factors I mentioned in my previous post, coupled with the transient population, that really makes those military towns struggle.

    Edit: Senior Jefe... you put it better than I did, thanks! (We must have been replying at the same time).

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    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    May I nominate Trenton, ON, Canada?

    It is home to a Canadian Forces Base and the town is, in my opinion, sure dumpy. It's really too bad because its natural geography setting could make the town to be a nice one, but it isn't.

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    ok. Military bases are here to stay. The throbbing brain has identified a planning challenge. So how do we as planners help make things better?

    ban/constrain unwanted uses
    better integrate the base with the community culture

    what?

    identifying the problem is easy.

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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u View post
    ok. Military bases are here to stay. The throbbing brain has identified a planning challenge. So how do we as planners help make things better?

    ban/constrain unwanted uses
    better integrate the base with the community culture

    what?

    identifying the problem is easy.
    A step in the right direction ?
    $566,000 grant funds Fort Knox area growth study
    http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/...702100404/1003

    Highlights:
    One Knox, an agency created by the eight counties around the Army post plus Bullitt County to coordinate and recommend responses to the projected growth, will use the money to begin studies on a half-dozen development topics.
    regional cooperation - yes.
    One Knox website: http://www.oneknox.com/
    Oddball
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    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    What is interesting in this particular instance is that directly to the west of Fort Bragg are the wealthy golf-resort communities of Pinehurst and Southern Pines. However, the entrance to the base is on the Fayetteville side, hence it receives the brunt of the impact.

    Also keep in mind: the City of Fayetteville has consciously decided to annex all of the development between its downtown and the base. There must be an economic benefit.
    When i first lived in the barracks i lived on the western edge of post. It was still a 30 minute drive to get to downtown Southern Pines. If you were closer to Bragg Blvd. it would take you at least 45 minutes. It was a drive through pine forests and past drop zones and artillery ranges. Ft. Bragg is a vast military reservation but people only live in a small corner of it.

    The towns of the Sandhills were well sheltered from the ills of Ft. Bragg - with the exception of the occasional broken window - broken by the concussions of exploding 155mm shells.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Military bases are funded by federal dollars. So some of their issues are no different from the issues of any community where the federal government has a big role in the economy. One example that comes to mind is Richland, Washington where a tiny town (I think only a few hundred people) mushroomed practically overnight (2 or 3 years?) into tens of thousands of people when the federal government built a nuclear facility there. The economy has a been a prisoner of the boom and bust cycles of changes in federal policies and federal agenda ever since. When I lived there, one explicit local goal was to actively seek to diversify the economy as an antidote to that.

    Also, the locals have a tendencies to treat the military as a "cash cow" and make it abundantly clear that while they want our money, they really don't want us there. The military generally reciprocates in feeling like "we want your services but we don't like you either". That doesn't exactly inspire military dependents to try to be active in anything locally. The fact that the civilian businesses do not want to hire military dependents contributes to a 30% unemployment rate among military spouses. The military tries to ameliorate that by giving hiring preferences to spouses. This helps further promote the divide between "them" and "us".

    There are a great many things that contribute to such problems. I wrote a lot more earlier but a computer glitch ate it and I don't feel like trying to recreate it all. <shrug>

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) Typo corrected.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan
    Otherwise, the other ones I've visited seemed like armpits to me.

    * Valdosta, Georgia (Moody AFB)

    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    I have to agree with some of those on your list, others I have not been to. But the Moody one is not that bad. Valdosta downtown is doing pretty good for a small town. They have created a 'place' and offer some interesting downtown activites for the Public. Such as the lunch time concerts. The area is still affordable and with the location (adjacent to I-75) it is growing economically. Some of the neighborhoods there are excellent and affordable. It also has a large theme park (Wild Adventures) to the south west of town. The area bettween Moody (it is north of Valdosta) and the city is expected to develop out over the next 10 or 15 years.

    So... I may not understand your criteria, but for me the areas not an armpit, but it sure is not a bustling metro.
    Seriously, Dan - how much time have you spent in Valdosta, and did you bother getting more than a half-mile away from any of the exits off of I-75? You've made snarky comments about Valdosta before, and they all sound like someone who is judging an entire town of 50,000 residents based on the commercial corridors adjacent to the interstate. What's the matter - did you stop for gas there one time 10 years ago and decided to judge the city based on the number of billboards along St. Augustine Road? Been to downtown Valdosta within the last few years? Checked out the University and its adjacent neighborhoods? Anything? As a former (18 year) resident of the town and a frequent visitor to it now, I can say with confidence that you have no idea what you're talking about.
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

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