At the recent Americans for the Arts Annual Convention the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV research was released to the public and the media. One of the trends noted in the presentation is the increasing urbanization of America. More and more people are moving to cities. This reality is posing unique challenges for small and medium-sized cities and towns.
In the 90s the big box stores descended upon Middle America with pervasive force, edging out “mom and pop shops” left and right. Some bemoaned the change, others viewed it as progress, and ultimately the “boxes” took over.
In the recent economic downturn many of those big box stores have left small towns, or significantly reduced their inventory. Now the residents can’t buy what they need at the big box or the “mom and pop,” so they turn to the internet or drive to a larger town. Of course the problem with this is that the commerce is then benefiting another community either where the online business resides or simply a bigger city in another county nearby.
The decreased tax revenue as well as the loss of commerce has a direct negative impact on the livability of these communities. Either the taxes have to go up or public services like nonprofits, schools, police, fire, and roads suffer. At least in our small town, the latter is what we have faced.
This leads us back to where we started—the research. When the livability of a community is subpar, educated and affluent people are more likely to leave, hence the migration to larger cities and towns. Some people even refer to this migration as “brain drain.”
Mansfield, OH, is a town that typifies this scenario. The arts organizations, nonprofits, and public services are all struggling to find their way in an economy that is increasingly unfriendly to small towns. The people of Mansfield, like the people in countless small towns across America, love their community and have high hopes for reviving their hometown. They have come together in some interesting ways as we adapt to the tougher times. Read the rest of this entry »