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Continuing my interest in shrinking places.

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Jan. 23rd, 2010 | 06:45 pm
mood: chipperchipper
music: Karen O and the Kids - Worried Shoes | Powered by Last.fm

And helping them to shrink prosperously, or at least not disastrously. Adverb headache!

As I promised in my last entry, behind the cut below are details on the secret detour I took on the way back home from Columbus!

Part of the reason I came up to the Upper Midwest for grad school is an interest in experiencing places that are not growing, not prospering, generally not doing well. We have lots of them in this country, but I think they're often ignored or artfully hidden behind the stories of places doing better. Having lived in the Southwest and the South, this is way different but no less interesting of a region.

These explorations also remind me of one of my favorite poems of all time, Walt Whitman's America:

"Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time."

The former Antioch College, which closed a couple of years back after many years of declining enrollment and has been reopened with rough successors in Antioch University and The Nonstop Institute, was mentioned in two different presentations (1, 2) by presenters at the THATCamp Columbus conference. After speaking a bit more with one of them on her project, I decided to take a little detour on the way home to see Yellow Springs and the campus.

I'm sure that everyone who blogged about this at the time of the College's closing already mentioned this stuff, but I do have to say that it's plain sad that so few students would be interested in a place like Antioch, where the arts are quite popular and the pre-professional programs aren't what's driving everything else. Having attended a college that was almost exactly the opposite (though the arts got a few much-needed shots in the arm in recent years at Duke), I think it's a noble educational approach that should have more adherents.

Still, the College needed to face reality and closed down without a good succession plan, and touring the campus makes it pretty obvious that they'd been in financial trouble for a while. There are lots of beautiful empty buildings that don't appear to be used by the new Antioch, and may not be again. Starting to look a bit like Michigan, actually. Downtown Yellow Springs, on the other hand, was really lively even for a cold Saturday afternoon and I enjoyed it even on a very quick tour. There are plenty of lovely old houses that are being cared for, and hopefully they'll be a vibrant little town for a long time. It really is the college, and not the town, that needs some serious growth at this point, though of course one affects the other.

As a concluding note, I have to say that I detest when people come to Detroit or Flint or wherever just to gawk at the formerly awesome cities that have been left behind; there's usually not much that such a person wants to contribute to these places (the worst, IMO, are the Detroit Central Depot fetishists, a long stream of people that keep going there to photograph the innards and the roof of the tower just because they can access it; as if the building doesn't have enough problems). I strive not to be that person, but I admit here that I have no particular solutions to offer to this place, other than engaging in dialogue with the two Antioch folks at the conference. Perhaps when I'm further along in the profession I'll be able to offer concrete insights to this place, but my guess is that they are in greater need of admissions marketing than urban planning. So I am offering this with that caveat, but hopefully someone reading this will perhaps be convinced to consider this tiny liberal arts college as a place to get educated. :]

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