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June 24, 2020  

Small Towns are Dying. Can They Be Saved?

June 24, 2020

Every few months, photojournalist Vincent David Johnson sets out on a road trip. His purpose: to document “rural America and the little pieces of Americana I find along the way.” Writing earlier this month in The American Conservative, Johnson said he thinks of his work as “modern-day exploration.” The problem with that description, he acknowledges, is that explorers go to find something new. In contrast, “I know what I’m going to find and it hasn’t changed for almost three decades now.”

Small towns are in serious trouble. Tens of millions of people left rural communities in the second half of the 20th-century, and many communities continue to lose their young people to larger cities. Businesses and population alike have taken huge hits, as freeways run motorists around (or over) these towns, but never slowly through them. Rural taxpayers subsidize their own demise, even as they pursue an approach to growth that is designed to decline.

Vincent David Johnson’s article, and the challenges facing rural America, are the subjects of this week’s episode of Upzoned. Host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, is joined again by regular cohost Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. Together, Abby and Chuck discuss the macro-forces arrayed against small towns, as well as the ways in which small towns become their own worst enemy. They talk about whether air travel is “one giant overpass for most of the country.” And they discuss the #1 thing we can do to help small towns.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about reading Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment, by the former Greek finance minister. And Abbey recommends American Nations, by Colin Woodard, a book about the 11 regional “nations” that comprise North America.

Additional Show Notes