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Sunday, May 23, 2010

ARE SMALL TOWNS BECOMING MUSEUM SITES IN SITU?

SMALL TOWN CUSTOM -- TOWN FOLK SIT OUT IN FRONT OF A STOREFRONT AND DISCUSS THE WORLD OR TOWN EVENTS
As we are aware, small towns are declining. In 1950 44 %. of Americans lived on farms or small towns -- now it has declined to about 23%. Small towns located near urban areas fare better as employment opportunities are near. Decline has been attributed to many factors -- farmers losing out to large aggregate farming (read, corporate industrial), movement by the young to urban areas for jobs, loss of transportation such as railroads and not being near new highway systems, all of which cause political and economic shifts benefiting larger cities. Result -- small town decline. Small towns have been fighting this, some have been winning. But most are not.

OLD THEATER SEATS POISED INSIDE THE OLD COX HARDWARE BUILDING, MT VERNON, KENTUCKY
As I travel around Kentucky and other states I always like to take the back country roads and ride through the small towns and places. They offer many opportunities to experience what you cannot find elsewhere. Two of my favorites are the local businesses and architecture. The less disturbed the town is from outside influences the better I enjoy it.

A VICTORIAN FENCE SITTING ON AN EMPTY LOT -- A REMNANT LEFT FROM A BURNT-DOWN HOUSE IN MT VERNON KENTUCKY.
I have noticed that many folks like to jump in their cars and take rides in the country and small towns. Do they stop? I don't know. Are they treating these small towns like museums? Could be!

Let me call these "jump in the car and take a ride" folks, small town travelers or STT folks.

As a suggestion, perhaps small towns in an area could join together and highlight what the area has to offer. Not the Motel 8 or the McDonalds but the different-- the unique -- what they have and don't realize it. How about the streetscapes in many of these towns that hold authentic buildings built in situ by locals using many local resources. A tiny Victorian building, a century old city hall built of native stone plus much more. Yes, the STT will say "oh, that's pretty," as they drive through, but never know what they are really looking at.

Let's do what some small towns are beginning to do -- have a tiny visitor center run by volunteers. Package the unique and different in little flyers and provide a walking tour map. Leave the commercial ads out. Get school kids involved designing a small town web site for their town, again leave out the ads. Maybe do this a few times a year. Not a festival -- just a plain ole appreciation of small towns event. Get the folks interested in the towns. Start a movement of BACK TO SMALL TOWN LIVING. With computers one can live and work just about anyplace. I'm not suggesting a tourist town or area but to introduce folks to what is and was the beauty of small town living. Just an idea to perhaps plug the leaking decline.

BEAUTIFUL LIMESTONE STAIRS TO NOWHERE -- SMALL TOWN BUILDING -- MISSING IN ACTION
Small towns and villages hold a history of settlement and offer individuals a chance to live life in non-pretentious ways. The photos on this post were taken in the small town of Mt Vernon. Their population is abut 2,592 according to the 2000 census. They are quickly losing their lovely main street vitality as storefront businesses leave -- the fabric shrinks.

These are just a few ideas that popped into my head -- I'm sure there are many more out there.

8 comments:

  1. Marshall, NC -- the small town twenty minutes away from me --- is re-inventing itself by restoring old building to their original look. It also has an energetic Arts Council which is making a real difference in folks' perception of the town.

    Good post -- good ideas!

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  2. Vicki,
    I checked out the web site featuring Marshall, N.C. What a tiny little town -- only 840 according to the 2000 census! I see that the site included other small towns in the area and the types of rural and artistic attractions they have to offer. Also, they have a driving tour featuring historical, cultural, scenic and natural interests that can be picked up at the local chamber office. It appears that the area is really attempting to restate itself. Do you know if they are getting dollars from a grant to restore the buildings you mentioned? Building restoration needs preservationists that can assist with recommendations for the proper materials. I recently ran into a restoration project that had the money to do so properly but botched the job as they did not use the right technical or sensitive people or materials.

    Thanks for mentioning this NC town! -- barbara

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  3. Those stairs and railings are beautiful relics.
    I love finding signs of the past like that too.

    You have great ideas for sustaining small towns.

    Thinking about where I live I haven't seen the development of a work from home/online jobs market, which would allow people to move out to small towns. We also have fast moving urban expansion,and many small country towns close to Melbourne are being consumed by housing developments. This is making it harder for people to have a country lifestyle, and work in the city.

    Sadly, many of these city fringe developments aren't very people or history friendly either; they tend to consist of very uniform, crowded housing stock.

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  4. Hi LiD, Interesting that even in Australia you have a similar urban pattern. Urban expansion in the U.S.means reaching beyond the established urban areas and forming more development -- like trees rings, forming ring after ring around the original urban area. You can tell the time-frame of expansion by the architecture. This expansion gobbles up small towns, villages and farm land with a vengeance. And like your fringe areas, the people don't have roots there, and as a result are not stakeholders in the area.

    Thanks for the good comments! -- barbara

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  5. Lovely post -- and those theatre seats! Love them. My mother, dead 12 years now, was a great SST-er, although her destination tended to be a state park. She did not like to drive so when I visited it was "let's go ..." and in her part of the country there was nothing but small towns. They felt increasingly lonely as fewer and fewer people were on the streets. But there were county seats with courthouses giving dignity to the towns and a few restored covered bridges. I remember many drives, especially in autumn with briliant leaves, making small towns festive.

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  6. Hi June, Yes, I have noticed the small towns far from urban centers have lots of empty parking spots along their streets and fewer people walking the sidewalks. It is my hope that small towns will find a niche that will bring back some of their former vitality.

    Thanks for the lovely comment -- barbara

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  7. Even though my husband's job tends to be near big cities, we tend to locate in small nearby towns, enjoying the community found there. A few of the ways I have seen the small towns I've lived in promote themselves is through weekly farmer's markets and art fairs. Parades and festivals, long time draws for crowds are still very much alive as well.

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  8. Darcy -- It does seem like it takes strong leadership as well as community groups to bring a small town back to some vitality. I worked with Vista in Oregon helping small towns get back on their feet. The small towns in trouble have a host of problems besides the ones I mention above. Community conservatism, budgetary problems, infrastructure problems such as poor water quality, zoning, bad roads, and even broadband inaccessibility, which can make a difference. Yes, farmers markets, and art fairs are all part of the upward climb. And parades too can help build a community back to its former self. It is a long and arduous step by step process for small towns. -- barbara

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