Saturday, July 31, 2010

History and demographics - notes from a long commute

I've driven from the Great Lakes region to Montreal about twenty times over the past thirty years.

The route has changed.

Two years ago we stopped traveling along the old Erie Canal route. The northern US border, from the Lakes to Vermont, had become too depressing. There were too many signs of dying communities. History moved on eighty years ago, but the post-9/11 collapse of Canadian tourism and the the lousy US economy of the past decade have accelerated the long decline.

This year we're seeing the same changes along the Canadian route. Businesses are vanishing, gas stations are closing, communities are disappearing. In the towns we visited we saw almost no children. I suspect the causes are similar to the American changes, but the demographic decline seems even more marked. Some of these northern communities depended on the lumber trade; they would have had good years before the housing crash, very bad times now.

Fifteen years ago we thought that the net might allow these communities to prosper. I was a small town physician for five years in the 90s, and I liked where I lived. Maybe that will still happen, but there's a lot of competition from places with better airports and milder climates.

It's a story as old as the ghost towns of the old west. These communities are small enough that a few energetic people will keep a few of them alive, but most will fade away.

Update 8/26/10: Three of the cities on the list of the top 10 dying American Cities were related to the old Erie canal and NE manufacturing route: Cleveland, Buffalo and Albany.

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