Thursday, July 10, 2008

From A Huge Distance

$4 gas helping revitalize small towns
Rural residents choosing local shops over distant malls

"THOMASVILLE, Ala. - Residents in once-sleepy Thomasville have started complaining about traffic jams on Route 43, which runs right through the town.

Much of the new traffic is coming from shoppers, squeezed by $4-per-gallon gas, who are staying closer to home instead of driving 100 miles each way to the nearest malls in Mobile or Montgomery."

In many ways, doing this project has changed my life. More ways to count, really -- but one way I love is opening a real conversation with my children about the choices we make every day. This weekend we are going to get really good bikes and start gearing up to bike our 2.5 mile commute to school in the fall. We won't be able to do it on my heavy teaching days -- but that leaves 3 days a week. I'm excited about all that this means for them -- exercise, air, saving money, not polluting -- more time together. I hope it works.

I love this story about Alabama.

There is an upside to much of what could be to come -- if we can make the changes we need to -- back to local industry -- to community based business we will benefit from the financial and human community connections of a person to person based daily life.

Yesterday we walked to the farmers market. We bought peas and raspberries picked from a local farm.

It was hot -- the kids didn't want to go shopping. We talked about how different the food looks and tastes when it is fresh -- we talked to the farmers about how they had picked it that morning. In the grocery store last week I showed them the peas from Chili -- how they were wilted -- old -- how they tasted bland and offered fewer vitamins.

Community economic models make sense in so many ways. I was an economic reporter -- manufacturing -- (for only a year) in rural North Carolina -- 10 year ago, when globalization was putting local companies out of business left and right. It was devastating to the communities and the towns. I got into a heated discussion a year or so ago with a friend -- about buying books locally -- how it was hard to support local book stores because big box stores sold things for dollars less per book -- this adds up if you buy a lot of books -- quickly.

To be sure some great things have come from the widened markets. Still -- wouldn't it be nice if some of the economic model could shift back now... for it to make financial sense to get more connected to what is around -- close to our senses -- bringing people together face to face.

"The whole retail logic has been to build big mass stores that drew from a huge distance," said Robert Robicheaux, an economic development specialist at the University of Alabama. "Now, we need to reconsider that."

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