A couple of weeks ago we drove south from Chicago for just over 2 hours to visit family who live in Danville, a town on the border with Indiana, and reasonably close to the university towns of Urbana-Champaign. We spent our first evening driving and walking around town which I found very interesting much I think to our hosts surprise.
Danville is a town of just over 30,000 people, and its main claim to fame these days seem to be as the childhood home of Dick Van Dyke, Gene Hackman and Donald O'Connor. It has seen better days. Its population declined by just under 10,000 between 1970 and 1990 when local industries closed or moved away. There are several really grand buildings downtown - old apartment buildings from the first half of the 20th century. But they are either no longer in use or being reused in less grand ways. And there are many many junk and charity shops - one of which was in such a state that Inspectors had closed it for health and safety reasons.
It was interesting to walk around streets with architectural ghosts of former glory days when there was money in town, and young people came to work and raise their families. And it was interesting to consider that no matter how hard the current recession is, Danville has actually been suffering for much longer. Young people who can have left town after school or college. How do small towns survive when their businesses move on or die? How can a town regenerate itself and rise again when it is so far from anywhere?