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Community, Reasons to Exist, The Making of Place

Human settlements need a reason to exist. Unlike businesses and industry, people need both a functional reason and aesthetics to make a location worthy. Maybe it was a river landing or a placid flow area to run a ferry. Maybe it was the "head of navigation" where overland freight could then be floated down stream. A crossroads. A pass through the mountains. A gold mine or where there was energy to run the mill and transportation to move the goods. First was the energy and the transportation then the people came to fulfill the needs of the industry.

Every industry and every mode of transportation has its natural aging process that makes it more or less sustainable. Regions built canals to float freight across long and short distances. Most of those canals succumbed to the railroads as soon as the rails became operational. Each new system renders the last one obsolete.

Highways and trucks rendered the shortline railroad obsolete. When timber was plentiful and the coal mines flourished, a railroad ran a spur out to their location. But as the logging and mining operations became smaller in size at the outset of a new section, laying a new track was not a viable option. Rubber tires on dirt and gravel roads made more sense.

Industries moved leaving the human settlements behind. With a decimated income from labor, the towns dried up leaving only the most vulnerable people behind. Children left their families to follow work wherever it could be found.

"My own children will go, as soon as they grow, for there is nothing here now to hold them." North county Blues. Bob Dylan.

Today some American towns rely heavily on the Social Security checks, public assistance, and the pensions of aging residents. There is no industry there to create local wealth from commerce. All the money that does come into the town is spent externally in distant places. The grocery store is located 20 miles or more away and is operated by a national chain that sells items processed far away. All the money spent there leaves the community not to return. Gasoline and heating fuel is the same. A foreign supplier, international price speculators, regional distributors take away all the money spent on energy. Telecomm companies suck away another share. Doctors and pharmacies take more away from the community. While all these enterprises are essential to the people who live in the community, they do nothing for the sustainability of the community. As far as each of these enterprises is concerned, a person equals one person, no matter where he lives. He will eat as much, drink as much, heat his home as much and need the same pharmaceuticals. The place that the people consider home is not important to the businesses.

Without a natural means of producing local wealth by Mining, Manufacturing, Farming and Fishing the net worth of the community cannot increase and decreases a little more each day.

Human settlements must possess a reason to exist. Old reason may disappear and not have a replacement. Those settlements will eventually disappear. If a new reason to exist is found and cultivated then survival of the settlement may be maintained.

With all due respect to the hopes and desires of the people who remain, the mere desire to remain in their accustomed homes is not a reason to exist. If they have the capital to sustain their place, they can fund the continuation of that place. No one else will care nor be willing to pay for it.

Braddock, Pennsylvania is a town that is being allowed to die. It once was a vibrant steel mill town where the historic Edgar Thompson Steel Works is located. The steel operation was once the site of a bloody labor strike put down by Pinkerton Guards and is now a shell of industrial decay. There was a hospital there until 2010 when it too closed down. People still live there and a few low-end businesses like pawn shops and a bar or two remain.  Entire buildings disappear on a regular basis as they become unsafe and are demolished. This is a town that has no reason to exist. And soon it won't. Its location has potential, but no one who is a part of the community will ever benefit from the massive influx of capital it will take to completely raze and replace everything that is not historic. The old community will cease to exist and a new one will be constructed when the price is right.

In 1989, Actress Kim Basinger put up $20 Million to buy the town of Braselton, GA. Her own financial status went sour and she sold her interest in the town to a developer in 1993. See Wikipedia: Braselton, GA, for details. The idea was to make a tourist destination and the town should flourish. It didn't. The developer still has not made a viable destination 20 years later.

There were the Main Streets grants in the 1990s that were supposed to revitalize small towns and economically depressed areas. The money was given to repave main street business strips, do sidewalk and streetscape improvements. The thought was that a capital investment in the infrastructure would make the place attractive again. They were wrong. If the main street had no reason to exist, the money failed to create one. Decay once again consumed the business district. Some towns did prosper as the result of the grant capital, but the landscape is littered with its failures.

Other blog posts that are related in a Series

Community, Reasons to Exist, The Making of Place This is the introductory section
reason-to-exist Every town, village city and region originally had a reason to exist.
todays-reasons-to-exist Every community needs a a reason today for its continued existance. Otherwise it will wither and die.
factors-that-are-missingThe economic system we use today removes critical factors tat allow a community to stay vital.
a-shared-historyThe people of a community need a sared history to stay cohesive as a community.
sustainable-community all of the essential factors must remain present for a community to continue its existance.
sustainable-infrastructure We built a lot of roads, bridges, wires and pipes. Now they have all gotten old and fragile.
sustainable-unemployment As manufacturing and the services industries ccontinue to evolve, human labor and attentjon is diminised. We need to devise a society where most people do not labor for their living.
sustainable-consumerism A balance between product durability and its replacement neds to be reached in order for an equilibrium to be reached.
sustainable-populations The human population cannot continue on its present trajectory without a terrible price to pay in the coming decades and century.
suburban-sprawl Sprawl is only possible when tere is ample buildable land and ample resources available to service thiose locations.
complete-streets Our transportation ways are not just for the automobile. People must walk, bike, and use other modes of transport on tose public rights of way.

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