Rural America: RIP

In my last post I derided autos for being largely resource hogs not worth the lifestyle they enable. A comment brought up something that always comes up when I speak about the future of transport: What about rural areas?

I come from a rural area actually and this is a comment that my grandparents always make. They report that having to commute to different jobs over distances by two parents requires multiple cars. Further due to the lack of a robust tax base in rural areas starting public transport programs is often out of reach. Heck even grocery shopping can be a commute in and of itself, the same goes for simple things like going to a movie.

They are right...and that's why Rural America must, is, and will die for the most part.

The national trend has been that younger people are moving toward cities while rural areas drop in population and the median age increases. Whats more they are not coming back, even after having children. Try as I may my grandparents don't get that their way of life is becoming a victim to statistics. The problem they point out won't be an issue in a generation because their won't be enough people living their to make their voices heard.

Today the town I grew up in has less than half as many people in it than when I was a child. Further the median age is now over forty when in the 1980's it was in the lower thirties. Those young families my grandparents talk about are an ever increasingly rarer breed. This is so true that many school have shut down or been regionalized because enrollment has plummeted. Kids that grow up where I grew up now have a 40 minute bus ride to get to school now that the school my friends and I walked to has been closed for over 10 years.

Towns all across my home region have had to get creative to keep property values from dropping. Several towns in the region I am from have undertaken "take down projects" where they demolish houses that have been vacant too long , plant trees on the lots, and let the forest take the land back. My grandparents town has had such a process since 2000; long before the housing bubble. In fact many towns are converting roads back to dirt because there are not enough houses on them anymore to justify the cost of paving.

The post-boomer generations are reshaping what it means to be American. This has been a slow process, but it is coming to a head now. Every year they vote to kill rural america by where they go to school, where they move to go to work so they can minimize commutes, and where they settle to raise children. More importantly they vote with their wallet by not owning or owning less cars, and driving them sparingly. The financial reality for younger Americans may seem bleak with high college loan debt, but they are using it as an opportunity to fundamentally shift this country to a more sustainable footing.

Cheap, affordable auto's created the rural American Dream; their decline will kill it. It's already underway.

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