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Thread: Is it still possible to create a new town?

  1. #1
    Dec 2008
    the delta

    Is it still possible to create a new town?

    I love reading the history of old small towns. Is it possible to create a new town today if you aren't a huge wealthy corporation (a la Disney)? How did people do it back in the day. You know, "Smithville KS was named after the founder, Joe Smith". How did Joe Smith found the town without oodles of money to do roads, etc? I assume the land was just free from the government. I know this seems like a silly question but are we done with the era of creating new towns?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
    May 2004
    I don't think we are done. we certainly are past the homesteading age where Joe Smith created Smithville without lots of money for roads, etc. But there are many places that were once very rural that have been developing urban amenities. As they develop they start to form a neighborhood feel and eventually some of these places incorporate and become a city. I see the evidence of this thing happening in many places - although the economic downturn slowed it considerably in most places. Probably not exactly what you are talking about though.

    I suspect that as energy becomes more expensive and resources become more scarce we will see more cohesive and somewhat self sufficient urban areas popping up. Kind of the antithesis to the geographic migration that happened as a result of the automobile.
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

  3. #3
    Jul 2007
    more West now
    Small communities were created for needs not wants...for example, in more rural areas, the 'town' had stores and places to get equipment, feed, goods, etc. Areas around ports and rivers that developed were servicing the shipments that came in. I suspect many communities started out this way. That's the difference between today's communities and ones created over 100 years ago. Today's communities are created for a 'want' of bigger housing and a want to have access to shopping nearby.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
    Mar 2002
    Upper left edge
    Many of these rural new towns were platted but not built by promoters, often with the cooperation of the railraods as they opened up new lands. The railroads needed water tanks every so often along their routes, and a local land owner (Smith) would donate a site for a tank, a station, and whatever other facilities the railroad needed at that point. In exchange the railroad would stop its trains there to pick up and drop off passengers and goods. Since there were no roads (and this often was before the days of the automobile) the railroad made transportation in the area possible. This made it economical to ship the products of agriculture, thus allowing new areas to be opened for agriculture. This created a need for grain elevators, supply dealers, etc. Smithville grew on Smith's land as he sold off the lots and got a great deal more for his land that he could have by selling it as ag land. Generally no city services were provided, and everyone was on wells and septic or cesspools. No streets were paved. As demand for these city services developed the townspeople taxed themselves for it.

    Could you do it today? Probably not. Today you'd have to provide urban service up front, which is very expensive, all before you make a dime on lot sales. That requires deep pockets and staying power.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    Also, the age of government assisting people in settling new land is long gone. In many areas in the past, the government would allow people to live on a claim and, if they managed to till the land and coccupy it for 5 years, they would be given the land free and clear. In other scenarios, they just sold off parcels at very reduced prices to promote settlement of areas. Much of this was, of course, misguided and the requirement to turn the soil and the offer of free land is a lot of what drove the Dust Bowl (80 million acres of 100,000 year old grasslands turned inside of a decade).

    Regardless, giving away free or cheap land removes the challenge of trying to build homes and attract people to your town. They already came for the free land and many built their own homes. And there was no zoning or, at least in the West, building codes to contend with...

    Still, my impression of many of those railroad towns is that they were built or at least founded by people who did have some significant means. Even building the water towner and other preliminary infrastructure to justify a railroad town wasn't cheap in the day. Many Big City speculators were run out of town on a rail in the settlement of the West. They were running out of town as the Snake Oil salesman was on his way in...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  6. #6
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
    Jul 1998
    On the Mother River
    It is quite possible and a new "town Next Door" was created near where I was the planner at the time. http://www.vediccity.net/
    “As 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 fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  7. #7
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Mar 1996
    Upstate New York
    Blog entries
    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    How did Joe Smith found the town without oodles of money to do roads, etc? I assume the land was just free from the government. I know this seems like a silly question but are we done with the era of creating new towns?
    I touched on this a few years ago; it seems like smaller settlements -- not the larger cities and towns that formed at break-in-bulk locations -- in certain parts of the country tend to share a common history. In Northeast Ohio and Western New York, it was Jebidiah Hamletname or Ezekiel Townname who opened a grist mill, bog iron foundry or stage hotel and tavern, which served as focal points to later settlers. In the Midwest, railroad water stops made convenient market towns. In the West, it's missions, mines, lumber mills, and springs.

    There's still examples of more recent settlements that aren't suburbs of larger cities emerging from what may seem like nothing. A few that come to mind; Cape Coral, Florida and Pahrump, Nevada (speculative subdivisions), The Villages, Florida (retirement community), Lake Havasu City, Arizona (artificial lake), and Los Alamos, New Mexico (atomic research).
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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