Rising Gasoline Prices And The Demise Of The Small Town.

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While I don’t particularly mind the rise in gasoline costs, as I believe it will be a good thing for the environment, driving 1/3 of the way across the country last week reminded me of one of the dangers of rising gasoline prices – the demise of small town America. I am not talking about small self-sufficient communities, but rather little tiny groups of homes with a bar in the center of town…and not much else. These type of places are scattered along the freeways from California to New Mexico, and sometimes they are 30 miles from the closest grocery store. Every time I think we now live in a small town (which we do, don’t get me wrong), I remember these depressing towns that are now spending a lot of money on gas just to go pick up some milk. And while it would be very easy to blame them for living so far out in the middle of nowhere (I know I have given it a thought or two), there are a few things to consider – the suburbs were built on the premise of cheap oil, so it doesn’t surprise me that people have chosen to live far, far away from stores; and a many of these communities are Native American land where all their people live. Now that oil and gasoline prices are soaring higher, we might start seeing the dying off of these type of communities – which while good for the environment is certainly sad in many other ways.

People will be losing where they might have been living their entire lives, which no one would want to have to go through. Entire generations and family trees could be from the same small town and be forced to break up and move to different areas. Many personal freedoms these people have prided themselves on might be lost, as they will become gentrified into the “regular” population. And keep in mind that many of the native peoples were forced onto this land years ago and do not want to give it up; but gas prices might make them do just that.

Will middle America become an endless string of dead-end towns that “used to be”? When we do get enough gasoline to make it across the plains, will we just be passing by our history as it sits there decaying? I don’t know, but the whole thing is very sad, and it’s not something I thought about too much before. I was one of those people who only thought that the high gas prices would do wonders for our society, but I am afraid of what we will lose in the process. A recent article in Time magazine talked about the benefits of high oil prices, which I agree with them on, but forgot to take into account the true human aspect and perspective of the same. Sure, sprawl development will slow down, jobs will return to the US that had gone overseas, but what about the people that already llive in these rural places? That is why I am hoping for good alternative fuels/battery technology that will allow people to live the life they want to live while also doing less damage to the environment. Not everyone is cut out for life in the big city, and not everyone is a rural-dweller by choice – we have to be able to make those choices for ourselves. I just hope we can come up with alternatives before our small rural towns disappear.

Photo by Nicholas_T

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  1. Very timely and accurate thinking.

    As former residents of Humboldt County, CA, importing goods into our area was pricey. We were 4 hours from any major town. Since we’ve been gone over a year now, I can only imagine what things cost to bring into the area now.

    When we were staying in Truth or Consequences NM, the closest “real” shopping was 70 miles one way, in Las Cruces.

    Now that we’re in Lake City, CO, the closest shopping is also about the same distance. Although there is a grocery store in town, major purchases must be made by taking a one hour drive to Gunnison, still a rather small town, with 5k people.

    As we search for our ultimate place to settle down in, we are seriously taking the transportation factor into consideration. As much as I want to live out in the country, the cost of importing goods into a rural area is something that will probably keep us from doing this.

    Our friend Eric recently wrote a great comment about these considerations.

  2. This isn’t the first time this has happened, right? When our interstate highways were built, so many thriving communities on the “back roads” were bankrupt and abandoned since no one was traveling that way anymore. I guess this is just another round of destroyed communities for exactly the opposite reason as before.

  3. Here in Montana, small towns are the heart of who we are, and oil prices are affecting us in a number of negative ways. Ultimately, however, many of us would much rather maintain our rural lifestyle and all it involves than give it up to move to a city somewhere with a whole new set of problems!

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