The places in-between


Source: voices.washingtonpost.com

Source: voices.washingtonpost.com

As the world continues to become more urbanized, the places in-between these pulsating urban areas are often overlooked as just blips along the expressway or dots 30,000 feet below us. While some of these places are hanging on with some sense of vigor, others are wasting away into dust. Far too often, most of us only see these places on a cursory level, never really understanding their history, culture, sense of community, or place in society. We dismiss them as the boondocks, the boonies, podunk, hicktown, nowheresville, and many other disparaging terms. Sadly, before long, many smaller places in between may no longer be economically sustainable and will rendered to the dustbin of history. Considering how many of us actually have roots in such communities, that would be the equivalent of allowing very own our ancestry to disappear.

Personally, I have ancestors from in-between places called Mount. Joy, Palestine, New Hebron, Fortville, Dansville, and Bancroft. None of these towns are household names, but that does not make them any less important – it just means they exist underneath the radar, going about their business without making a fuss or commotion. Of these, Mount Joy is certainly the healthiest as a suburb of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Fortville is a growing suburb of Indianapolis. The other communities…who knows their long-term outlook? None of them appears to have benefitted from geographic good fortune. I am certain many of you reading this post have relatives or ancestors who live in the places in-between, whether you are from India, Canada, the United States, Australia, England, Russia, Brazil, or anywhere else on this planet.

In some instances, the places in-between consist of entire regions. Regions which were once vibrant, now lack the panache of a digital society or are no longer in vogue and have fallen out of favor. In the United States, portions of Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and the Great Plains are nearly treated like pariah. Certain regions of the many other nations face the same disdain from the modern populace.  While regions certainly will not disappear from the map, they suffer a death all the same – not physically, but of the spirit and the vitality once known.

I am not advocating for the wholesale redistribution of the population back to its rural roots. That would be an unwise move on a number of levels. But, I am saying we need to be conscious of the fact that the entire legacy of multiple generations is fading away right in front of our eyes. Once it is gone, it will be gone forever. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should be a little less condescending towards those small places in between the bright lights of the big city. Perhaps, we should strive to build and/or enhance the oral and written history of these places before they are swept away by time. And perhaps, we should occasionally take the road less traveled now and then to patronize the places in-between versus the chain store schlock routinely found along expressways and in the big city. Our individual actions could spell the difference between a community’s ultimate survival or its demise. And we all know, that’s already an obituary that is too often being written.

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9 Responses to The places in-between

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Seen a lot of these formerly vibrant rural locations….first they lose their post office, then their school, then their general store, and maybe their grain elevator too…

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  2. Ron Melin says:

    Gotta thank the interstate highway system for part of the demise. As a people we were too much in a hurry to get off the interstate to eat at the locally owned cafe or stay at the locally owned, independent motel. So we’ve ended up with impersonal “chain clutter” at the off ramps before and after the bypassed, once vibrant towns. I prefer to travel the two-lane highway like U.S. 20 across the top of Nebraska. What’s the hurry?

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  3. denese.neu says:

    Rick: I love your blog – always provocative. I’m currently reading Methland (centered in a declining Iowa town, it’s about the Meth epidemic and small town economics). I think it is necessary reading for all urban planners with strong leaning toward the social sciences. Keep doing what you do!

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  4. When small bands of Native Americans traveled around the parts in-between regions which could support more populous, more permanent villages, they got their strength from their identity as a group, not a particular place where they camped for a time. Their economies were based on primary natural resource extraction, but were also characterized by vertical integration (for those non-Econ students, an example is hunting the bison, butchering it, processing the meat, making by-products, tanning the hide, and making finished goods from it). Much of the malaise of these current in-between places stems in part from the imposed land-ownership system.

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  5. Pingback: “Jetson’s cool” EV charging service stations | Panethos

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