Friday, June 22, 2018

Small towns, big thinking

As the home of the out-of-town mall and the big-box retail store, of hollowed-out city centres and mile upon mile of featureless urban sprawl, the US isn't exactly renowned for small-scale thinking. Yet, as the BBC's Tom Geoghegan reports, echoing the verdicts of a clutch of recent books, a localist mentality appears to be thriving in smalltown America.

The revival of previously declining towns and cities, catalysed by this focus on the local, may not seem that noteworthy to us Brits, given that such a movement has been discernible here for the last 20 years. But, as Geoghegan points out, it is when you consider both the political and economic gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Washington and the predominant narrative of national decline. While Trump blathers on about "Making America Great Again", others are actually busying themselves trying to do just that on a local level.

Of course, there is the danger that this revival may merely constitute gentrification, routinely celebrated for smartening up areas, boosting property prices and making places more appealing to live but also often deeply problematic in excluding or expelling those who are priced out. (It would be interesting to know what Mark Binelli, the author of the excellent book The Last Days Of Detroit, which I'm still meaning to review, makes of all this.)

Nevertheless, the evidence gives cause for cautious optimism that the country might finally be coming to the realisation that bigger isn't always better and that thinking small can result in significant change.

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