Maybe another try…
By Jim Thompson
As recently as this month, I have been decrying the destructiveness of big cities (“How my opinion of Guatemala has changed in 11 years,” “Points of Decivilization”) and my dislike of HOA (Home Owner Associations) is legendary. Just maybe, however, we should give all of this one more try.
I have been reading a lot lately about the lack of buildable land for new homes. It appears a serious component of the housing shortage is places to build them.
I know where to build them.
Examples are Ironton, Wheelersburg, New Boston and Portsmouth, Ohio. Another example is Gary, Ind. Then there is my favorite, Cairo, Ill. Hopefully, without offending the residents of Greenfield, we can throw it in the mix (after all, it wasn’t that long ago Ohio classified it as a city).
Many of these places, with Gary and Cairo being the poster children of my short list, are in decline or even serious decline. There are many other places around the country in a similar state; these just happen to be ones I intimately know. For example, in the early 1980s, I spent three years commuting through Cairo every day on my way from Cape Girardeau, Mo. to my job in Wickliffe, Ky. I spent two years driving through Gary on my way from Midway Airport in Chicago to Valparaiso, Ind. on a special assignment.
Such places are a mixed bag. They were platted and zoned many decades ago, in some cases over a century ago, so the basics are in place, along with utility infrastructure. No doubt the utility infrastructure needs many updates, but at least the framework is there. These places declined because old industry or transportation methods became obsolete and local jobs were no longer available.
Today, however, many people in the gig economy do not need to be near centers of manufacturing or transportation. With proper redevelopment, these places could all be interesting, attractive and a fine place to call home. Cairo, especially, a sliver of land bounded by the Ohio River on the east, the Mississippi River on the west and with the confluence of these two giants at an existing park on the south end of town, really appeals to me. And, yes, Corps of Engineers’ flood walls are already in place.
All these and similar towns need a development company similar to the one that built “The Villages” in Florida, to come in and gently transition these towns. Rebuild them with modern amenities: safety, schooling, recreation and health infrastructures paid for by HOA style dues and property taxes. It will take this kind of big-picture thinking and means to accomplish these redevelopments, but it is not out of the question. The city/state of Singapore may be a model to follow.
Fifty years ago, in Cincinnati, places like Mount Adams and Walnut Hills were rebuilt by brave individual pioneers who bought 50- to 75-year-old row houses and mansions. They took the risks of rebuilding these residences on their own and it paid off. This happened in other cities as well.
The work world is changing, and people no longer need to necessarily go into their place of employment every day. I was just reading in the Wall Street Journal that Smuckers, of tiny Orville, Ohio, seems to have found a method of dealing with office workers not wanting to come into the office every day. They have identified 26 “core weeks” in the year (every other week). They demand in-office participation then, but employees can work from anywhere else for the other 26 weeks (employees are responsible for their own travel costs to and from Orville). Management thinks this pattern may even improve productivity over pre-Covid days.
The towns of which I speak here could be the permanent residences of such employees.
More employment scheduling like this can be a boon to the renovation of tired old towns. Civic-minded private and public leadership is the catalyst to make this happen.
Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.