Death of Rural America: The Sequel

If you haven’t read the article from which this sequel stems, you should. The first article explains the factors that cause the death of rural America and small towns. This article will show a glimpse into the results of the things we discussed in the first article.

Recently in the a small town I grew up near, an incident took place. Friends described it as a gunfight on main street. The event sent one person to the hospital and riddled buildings on the town’s tiny main street with bullet holes. Even the towns fire station was left with a bullet hole after the shootout.

Now imagine you’re in a small town in the center of America. A town miles away from the big city surrounded by farms and open spaces. And suddenly a shootout took place. You’d be shocked! How could this happen in my small hamlet. Norman Rockwell scene meets war zone image.

How did we get here? This article is intended to show how a quaint rural American farm town changes to something that more resembles a ghetto from a big city, replete with drug dealers, prostitution and gunfights.

The small town I came from was founded around the turn of the 20th century. It had weathered floods, downturns in the economy, fires and more, but it still stood. The city refused to die gracefully, almost in a zombie state. And like a zombie it pushed on in a dilapidated, run down, dysfunctional condition. As the city aged a number of factors caused it to reach this state of undead. First, time took its toll on everything. The buildings, streets, utilities, the very fabric of the city aged. But as the city aged most of the city’s younger residents left to stretch their wings in the “bigger” cities. Left behind were mostly older residents. These older residents who often opposed any growth in the city at all, were now left to contend with an aging city, deeply in need of maintenance. And with a shrinking tax base, paying for said maintenance became more and more difficult.

As things progressed, many businesses shut down. Often the buildings that were at one time significant revenue generators were repurposed into very low cost housing. Doing so was an effort by the property owners to derive at least some income from their properties. And, reality being what it is, the low cost housing attracted many people to the city that were less desirable. A certain criminal element crept in.

For some time the small city pushed back against the criminal elements invading its town. But, maintaining a police department is an expensive endeavor.  Eventually the city’s law enforcement simply becomes ineffective.

As things degrade, many residents decide to move away. Their safety compromised and services lacking, they leave. There comes a point where homes become rentals while others just sit vacant. You can draw an analogy to a house not having people in it, to a person not having a soul; very cold and empty.

All of these factors created a perfect storm of decay. But the factors listed above could be viewed as the more tangible or direct causes. There is however another set of issues that are more subtle. For years the residents of the city had been taking their money and time out of the city. Their children subsequently carried on with this habit of leaving town for everything. The town was neglected in favor of the bigger cities. Compounding this, parents who had kids encouraged them to move away and start lives elsewhere. Looking at these actions from afar, it’s easy to see how these actions contribute to the death of the small town. It’s almost suicidal. There is an irony that bears noting.

Most of the people living in the small town would extol it’s virtues and decry the ills found in the big city. Yet, it’s their own actions that kill off the virtues of the small town and usher in the blight they fear.

Soon you end up with a zombie town replete with prostitution, drugs, thievery, and shootouts on Main Street. If you don’t want this fate for your small town look in a mirror and ask yourself if you are contributing to its death. Look in the mirror and realize you could be destroying not just a small city, but an entire way of life.

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