OPINION: Who speaks to dying town dilemmas?

By Bill Crawford

“Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away-a-a-aay,” pleaded Paul Simon.
Well, mama Kodak took Kodachrome film away-a-a-aay last summer…gone the way of the floppy disk, the rotary dial telephone, and manual typewriters. Ha, my wife yells at me because I hit keys just as hard now I did on those old typewriters.
“The times, they are a-changing,” warned Bob Dylan.
Ever been to Kola, Miss.?
I spoke to the Covington County “Salute to Business and Industry” gala there last year. Well, sort of. We were at a wonderful gathering place just past the tank farms at Collins in what used to be Kola. You see, Kola is an extinct town. When the Kola Lumber Company went away-a-a-aay in the early 1900s, so did the Town of Kola.
A marvelous anthology entitled “Sense of Place: Mississippi,” published in 1979 includes an article by Howard G. Adkins, “The Historical Geography of Extinct Towns in Mississippi.” He describes the death of 265 Mississippi towns between 1830 and 1970 – including Kola.
Another was Electric Mills north of Meridian. Wallace O’Neal recalled the following newspaper notice in the early 1940s: “The town of Electric Mills in Kemper County has been abolished by the proclamation of Gov. Paul Johnson.”
“To every thing there is a season,” taught the Preacher, describing the way of life.
All this brings to mind important public policy questions.
Will we…should we…allow more towns to fade away-a-a-aay? Katrina and ARRA funding shows government willing to provide towns life support when certain disasters occur. What about when a town’s economic engine dies or its tax base dries up? Should mayors look to state government for life support?
From a policy perspective, is this “a time to keep” or “a time to cast away?”
Technology brings the seasons of change ever more rapidly. Film yields to digital cameras. Rotary phones died; “land lines” may be next; wireless is the future. Checks yield to debit cards and online bill pay.
Companies adapt their business models to change – Kodak to digital, ATamp&T to wireless, banks to paperless transactions.
How do dying towns adapt? Is death or life support the only choice? Is there – can there be – an adaptive “business model” for dying towns that help them retain their “sense of place” while addressing economic realities?
Perhaps modern, technology-driven, multi-jurisdictional methods of rural governance? Or regional service delivery and administration? Many study and many talk about these issues and possible answers. Multiple organizations assist struggling towns. Some states have agencies dedicated to rural challenges.
But in Mississippi, who at highest levels of state government really speaks to dying town dilemmas?
“People talking without speaking,” sighed Simon with Art Garfunkel in Sounds of Silence.

Bill Crawford, a former legislator, lives in Meridian. Email: crawfolk@gmail.com