Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canada's Rural Collapse

Canada has many of the usual fashion of ghost towns.  I haven’t done any sort of study of them, but a lot of them look like the usual mining towns where the seam became topped out:  No gold, no town.
But the small towns of Canada are facing a much wider demographic threat today.  The trend is similar to the one in the United States. But in a country of less people, and greater distances, the trend is easier to pick out of the noise.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press, 13 August 2011 via Yahoo News (HT: Global Guerrilla)
MONTREAL - Small Canadian towns are painfully aware of the existential predicament they face. Few are strangers to the sobering realities of declining and aging populations, young people fleeing to cities, difficulty maintaining infrastructure, and sky-high unemployment.
Some are fighting back.
They're aware of the odds stacked against them. The rural population fell to below 20 percent of the national average for the first time in the last census and, while semi-rural areas are generally faring well, the most remote parts of the country are suffering the steepest declines.
"If they're beyond easy commuting distance of a big city, overall most small communities are shrinking," said Bill Reimer, a Concordia University professor and director of the New Rural Economy project, which has been monitoring Canadian small towns for more than a decade.
"Unless they are near an urban centre or a fabulous natural amenity like a mountain, many are in trouble."
The story continues with many interesting efforts to keep these small towns going.  It concludes with:
But she bristles at the suggestion that it's a waste of tax dollars to prop up a town like hers that might be unsustainable. Keeping small towns alive is in everyone's best interest, she says.
"We are the weekend playground for the cities, for all the people who want to get away for fresh air," she says.
"We supply their food. All the natural resources are out in the countryside — mining, forestry, agricultural. And you know what?" she continued. "Someone has to be there."
Why with all of our ability to communicate and ship over distances, do the smaller towns and cities seem to be fading away.   It appears that in an interconnected system, small advantages tend to magnify themselves. This appears to be a general property of networked systems.  Added to the general economy of scale advantage of the larger cities, it tends to drain areas beyond commuting range of their people.  In North Carolina, a state that has been growing, there are still counties that are  losing people.  They tend to be counties where it is too far to commute daily to the large economic centers.  Sure the occasional employer, attracted to the lower wages, and usually with the aid of State funds, will set up something out there, but it is fighting a flood going the other way.
The concern I have with the last point, quoted from the article above, is that the value at the margin, at the edge of societies overall value if you will, is only there in a society that produces enough wealth to sufficiently maintain its core.   If the core cannot be maintained, than there does not seem to be much point in propping up the even more tenuous portions.
Canada has been riding a commodities boom and something of a property bubble as well.  This allows them the luxury of attempting to maintain these areas.   It seems like they are building sand castles against a tide of demographics.
If economies get severely depressed, people who choose to live in the far outlying areas may need to be prepared to be a little more self-reliant than they thought.  Of course, to the people that publish various home stead, small-agricultural blogs that I link to, that is likely preaching to the choir.  It is just that the sequence of collapse may be backwards of what they were anticipating.


Anne said...

It is a struggle to keep a small town alive. The one I am in is flailing against the current to keep from drowning.

Many of the small town shops (grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. etc.) are gone. The death knell was when a Walmart opened 15 miles away. Many of the stores here are not even on the internet.. yet just the other day a 70+ yr. old gentleman farmer remarked how his son ordered everything he needs from the internet.

The ebb and flow of finances.. small towns are fighting low tide with minimal tide pools to rely upon.

russell1200 said...


You can see a progression around here (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). First the mills closed. Then came in a lot of light manufacturing. Then as Raleigh or Durham gets to close the manufacturing goes away. Then they start either tearing down the old factories, or they use them for gyms, skating rinks, etc. and the little downtown revives with coffee shops, tea rooms, and gift shops.

At this point the light manufacturing hops out to the next small towns further out.

It happened to Cary, NC back in the 1980s, then Apex SC south of it. Now on the north side of Raleigh, you are seeing it happen to Wake Forest (where the University started) with Youngsville being the next on up the chain. At around the focus of Chapel Hill-Durham, you see it with Hillsborough and Carrborough.

Of course various non-centered suburban sprawl connects between the various old towns.

If you did not have the growth from the big economic generator of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill these little towns would be in stasis at best, or more likely, slowly dwindling.

Anne said...

I hear ya.. and I agree. Agriculture and tourists is what feeds this area in general.. and the tourists are minimal this year.

Supporting local is difficult when they can't match the price tags of the big box stores.

The guy who owns the hardware store.. also works at the gas station up the road.. so he can keep his store open.

No one sees anything getting better any time soon... the general consensus around here.