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Lost to history? or improvement?
October 29, 2003 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Welcome to Rawson, N.D., Population. 6. Are towns like these worth saving? Should these "areas" be allowed to go back to their natural equilibrium between man and nature? Is there a "natural" equilibrium? What does this mean for the future of small towns v. urban sprawl? Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and Drs. Frank and Deborah Popper of Rutgers have an idea.
posted by Bag Man (27 comments total)

 
I don't know -- are they saying getting rid of farms so that a bunch of wildlife can run around free? Seems like a bad idea to me. It's aesthetically pleasing, sure...but with more and more hungry people being born each day, and hundreds of thousands of acres of aerable land, it makes more sense to fix the farms -- actually have them be sustainable, grow and raise lots of food. I say, let's have some kind of system where for something like $2000 a year, you and a few hundred other people in your town get to own your own farm in Nebraska, pay people to run it and distribute all the food to you, year round. Why wouldn't that work?
posted by drinkcoffee at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2003


drinkcoffee - Though your idea might have some merit, I think if I spend $2000 on food I'd like a little more variety than 20 bushels of corn and a ton of grain.

I found the NY Times article to be incredibly irritating. As someone who has grown up in western rural areas, these types of ideas do nothing more than tick off the inhabitants of rural areas. There is a great deal of resentment towards the "eastern city slickers" which will never go away. And beyond that, he starts out the article calling the town Rawson, and finishes calling the town Rawlins. C'mon, at least know which poor little town you're stereotyping!
posted by split atom at 11:47 AM on October 29, 2003


I live in the great plains (South Dakota, to be exact). I have a couple of things to say about this.

1. Property rights must be respected. People shouldn't be forced to leave the areas. I really see no reason why, if the Buffalo Commons idea is implemented, there still can't be some people living in the midst of it. So farming isn't viable? Fine . . then take down all the fences and let most of the roads go to farrow. But if someone still chooses to live out there, with no municipal services, then let them do so. I would personally find it to be a paradise.

2. The article states:
The economic model (of plains farming) will be even less viable as underground aquifers run out in the next two or three decades. Much plains farming relies on the vast Ogallala aquifer, which is dropping at a rate of four feet per year.

I found this to be quite a surprise. However, this article presents a different picture (though it is from a biased source). Furthermore, the Ogallala aquifer is NOT the source of water in North Dakota - it stops in southwestern South Dakota.

And again, just because large-scale agriculture might not be viable in some areas doesn't mean that other ways of life couldn't be viable.
posted by yesster at 11:49 AM on October 29, 2003


Oh - one more thought . . .

You know how we have problems with public housing slums in the big cities. Urban poverty is a "crisis" according to some.

Why not give the option (again, choice is key, not force) for folks to leave the city. Instead of pouring money into more urban public housing, public assistance would help them set up a small sustainable 5-acre plot of land. That is, we'd teach them to fish, instead of giving them fishes.

I present it as another option. So small plains towns are dying. The Buffalo Commons idea is one option. Carefully managed homesteading is another.
posted by yesster at 11:53 AM on October 29, 2003


Nobody lives there and I can buy a house for $3K?

Sounds like paradise.

*packs, moves*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:56 AM on October 29, 2003


Perhaps we should start a MeFi repopulation of Rawson. That would at least make the Meetups easier to coordinate.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:58 AM on October 29, 2003


...and the Mefi-mune commences!
posted by notsnot at 12:05 PM on October 29, 2003


There goes the neighborhood.

*repacks, moves out*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:06 PM on October 29, 2003




Wulfgar! beat me to it. Great post, Bag Man.
posted by homunculus at 12:19 PM on October 29, 2003


Buffalo Common by Bill Brown is a great documentary short film about the return of the frontier in the Dakotas. I think it's being shown on the Sundance Channel.
posted by twitch at 12:36 PM on October 29, 2003


North Dakota is hemorrhaging population, but it has been losing population consistently since the 1930s. I'm not crazy about the top-down imposition of a Buffalo Commons, because it just completely ignores the situation of the people who live there. However, in some respects, you can argue that the Buffalo Commons idea has already been implemented without any top-down planning. Here's the North Dakota Buffalo Association, which exemplifies how some enterprising North Dakota farmers have improved their economic situation by herding buffalo, cross-breeding them with cattle, and supplying demand for low-fat beefalo meat.
posted by jonp72 at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2003


I live in Fargo. What you're all forgetting about is the reason no one lives here to begin with (and why I'm leaving following graduation)...
We have two seasons: winter and road construction.
The weather is primarily why they can't even pay people to stay.
posted by travis at 12:49 PM on October 29, 2003


Mmmmmm beef-a-low
posted by zeoslap at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2003


...go back to their natural equilibrium between man and nature?
posted by iamck at 12:56 PM on October 29, 2003


Property rights must be respected. People shouldn't be forced to leave the areas

Depend on whose property you're talking about. If you mean land that's actually owned by the people, fine (except we can still take it through eminent domain, if we pay them for it). If you mean land that's actually owned by the Feds, well, then you can kick the residents off and still protect property rights, since it ain't their property.

I really see no reason why, if the Buffalo Commons idea is implemented, there still can't be some people living in the midst of it.

Nor I. Little towns with hotels or campgrounds in 'em would be jumping-off spots for buffalo-spotting, etc.

these types of ideas do nothing more than tick off the inhabitants of rural areas. There is a great deal of resentment towards the "eastern city slickers" which will never go away

I'd be more sympathetic to their causes if they didn't depend on being subsidized by me for living there, or on being able to make free use of someone else's land. Thinking there of the uproar around the creation of Grand Staircase/Escalante as a "land grab" that consisted entirely of the legimitate land-owner changing the terms of use on the land.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:13 PM on October 29, 2003


back to their natural equilibrium between man and nature?

Is man unnatural?

Oh, and what mr_crash_davis said. *starts packing*
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:18 PM on October 29, 2003


This dovetails nicely with my idea to buy an entire sub-division in formerly rich farmland (seeking donations now!) and, while renting out all the houses, raze the yards and narrow the streets and farm all of the intersitial space (okay, I'll cede small plots for each family and maybe communal ballfield in this years corn -- hey, wait a sec...)

Drinkcoffee: the problem of hunger has little or nothing to do with the world's capacity to produce enough food although I admit, it does sound appealing to provide the possiblity that all people could feed themselves on a local level. On a similar note, I've always wondered why we could not give _insert latest abused less powerful group of people here_ their very own hunk of the underpopulated USA. The Appalachians would look great with more mountainside meadows!

What I hope does come out of this debate would be a rejection of absurd efforts to artificially sustain these furture ghost towns. Nice post; as a modernist, I love that map of Rawson. A line and a dot. Zoom in? It's cartesian, man.
posted by Dick Paris at 2:02 PM on October 29, 2003


Bless the beasts and the children
posted by mecran01 at 2:07 PM on October 29, 2003


I was thinking we would have to make the farms more diverse -- not just grain and corn, or maybe implement some kind of bartering system between co-ops -- that way you'd get your variety (no bananas or coffee, though...there goes my breakfast). The idea is starting to sound more and more like Communism, I admit -- but I think that "the possiblity(sic) that all people could feed themselves on a local level" is pretty cool and would solve quite a few problems...
posted by drinkcoffee at 3:23 PM on October 29, 2003


The cynic in me says "Population 6? Heck, wait a few years and there won't be any property owners, therefore no property owners' rights to worry about."

The utopian in me says "Why doesn't some dotcommer buy up a whole town or two? Even paying a hefty premium they can still have a whole town for the price of a cardboard box in Palo Alto. Create a new-style company town, complete ecologically sustainable ex-urban planning and locally grown organic food. After the initial investment and all-important high-speed data lines, work towards making the area/county largely self-sufficient."

Then the slacker in me says "Nah, too much work."
posted by ilsa at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2003


This is ironic, eliminating roads to recreate wilderness, coming at the same time that Congress gives western States the ability to claim roads within vast tracts of wilderness.

Here, in Utah, the knives are getting sharpened to slice and dice Escalante National Monument and the six million acres of wilderness which had its protection lifted by the Bush administration earlier this year.

I with Utah would get the same consideration North Dakota is getting.
posted by pandaharma at 5:16 PM on October 29, 2003


Buy a town and make a giant housing co-op. Could you imagine what a house, sold at cost, would run in ND?
posted by mecran01 at 6:20 PM on October 29, 2003


Why you can't let people live there:

If you do, you have to let everyone who wants to live there do so. Which means if you have one rich guy who decides he is going to build his summer get-away house there, then some other rich folks do the same, you destroy the ecosystem, and raise property values to the point where the dirt farmers are forced out anyways.
posted by benjh at 6:48 PM on October 29, 2003


First the bison, then the elephants.
posted by homunculus at 8:46 PM on October 29, 2003


Then the truckasauruses? Please?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:28 PM on October 29, 2003


Instead of pouring money into more urban public housing, public assistance would help them set up a small sustainable 5-acre plot of land.

We tried this once, didn't we?

US Homestead Act 1862-1976

...this Act turned over vast amounts of the public domain to private citizens. 270 millions acres, or 10% of the area of the United States was claimed and settled under this act.

A homesteader had only to be the head of a household and at least 21 years of age to claim a 160 acre parcel of land. Settlers from all walks of life including newly arrived immigrants, farmers without land of their own from the East, single women and former slaves came to meet the challenge of "proving up" and keeping this "free land". Each homesteader had to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years before they were eligible to "prove up". A total filing fee of $18 was the only money required, but sacrifice and hard work exacted a different price from the hopeful settlers.

--

The Homestead Act remained in effect until it was repealed in 1976, with provisions for homesteading in Alaska until 1986. Alaska was one of the last places in the country where homesteading remained a viable option into the latter part of the 1900s. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 substantially decreased the amount of land available to homesteaders in the West. Because much of the prime land had been homesteaded decades earlier, successful Homestead claims dropped sharply after this time.

posted by anastasiav at 8:58 AM on October 30, 2003


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