In his book The Long Emergency as well as in many of his “Clusterfuck Nation Chronicles” James Howard Kunstler has made reference to the fact that Americans will engage in heroic efforts to salvage what he describes as “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world”. In JHK’s conversation with K-MO on the latter’s C-Realm Podcast last week I was surprised not to hear that particular prediction, perhaps one of the few Kunstler has got spot-on, highlighted as an answer to the host’s query regarding the apparent delay of the Peak Oil Apocalypse.
Three local news and opinion items in particular jumped out at me this week displaying how, just in this one provincial community, these efforts might take shape. Rural communities in Western Massachusetts are dying. They survived and thrived during the initial stages of the deindustrialization and financialization of the regional economy by transitioning from centers of agriculture and small scale manufacturing into bedroom communities for the urban employment centers which remained nearby. The people who lived or still live in those locations are aging beyond the stage of life in which one has school age children and therefore school populations have collapsed. Economies of scale which existed at a certain level of population have disappeared and demand for exurban housing has weakened just enough that systems are wobbling.
Ideas are evolving into strategies, and strategies into legislation at the state level with proposals for increased funding for rural school districts, cash payments to remote workers willing to relocate, changes in infrastructure to promote demand for housing in rural areas, and incentives for creating jobs in sparsely populated areas all being actively discussed. From the outside it seems clear that the people promoting these initiatives are hoping to find a kind of Goldilocks Zone in which the policies attract just enough people to maintain a stable population with just the right amount of school age children to provide educational services with exactly the infrastructure that worked over the last 40 years while at the same time replacing lost businesses with precisely the sort of businesses that will provide a perfect level of employment; but not so much that their “rural character” is endangered. This is an Apollo 13 scenario.
Incidentally, I add the demand that all of this change not change anything the current residents don’t want changed ( i.e. everything but their home values, level of service, and the demographic make-up of their community) based on news items like this one in which the existence of a Dollar General isn’t permitted because it doesn’t conform to the vision these people have for their community, or this little item requesting that rural residents be exempted from any mileage taxes given that they would be disproportionately, and in their minds unfairly, burdened by such a tax; why should people who use the roads most have to pay so much in user fees after all?
I want more of what makes my city a city in my city. The only person I’ve heard complain about the increased traffic from MGM is a lawyer with a nearby office who wants to be able to get to his suburban home without the inconvenience that, I kid you not, occasionally having to sit through a light might bring. Everyone else wants the proposed new hotels to open, the contractually obligatory market rate housing to be built, the proposed new retail and restaurants to begin construction, and for infill development to begin; these things give us all more of what we came here for.
You can criticize suburbanites for wanting their communities preserved in amber, but the “Hill People”; they want everyone and everything else to change in order to keep everything they love about living wild and free in the wilderness exactly as it is, but all the while demanding that everyone else pay to see to it that they not suffer any diminution of access to the aspects of civilization that they enjoy. I don’t hate the hinterlands, I actually love them for exactly what they are, if only the people who lived there felt the same way.