BILL CRAWFORD: Saving towns requires new perspectives

By Bill Crawford

In 1973, Memphis, Miss., incorporated as a village in DeSoto County. The 2000 Census showed the village with a population of 87. But, in 2004, what was the Memphis incorporated area became part of the Town of Walls.
As I have written before, towns do cease to exist in Mississippi, about 100 per century.
In fact, Section 21-1-49 of the Mississippi Code requires the secretary of state to “automatically abolish” any municipality whose Census population falls under 50.
Satartia came close to that level in 2010 with a population of 55, down from 68 in 2000. Other small towns with populations falling below 100 in 2010 were Gattman, down 24 to 90; Tillatoba down 30 to 91; and Doddsville down 10 to 98.
Four small towns lost about half their populations between the Censuses of 2000 and 2010. French Camp decreased in population from 393 to 174; Carrolton from 408 to 190; Falcon from 317 to 167; and Glendora from 285 to 151.
Big population drops can also be found in other towns. Such trends are difficult to turn around. Indeed, unless struggling towns can find and empower informed, energetic leadership, it’s likely many more will bite the dust this century.
How do towns turn things around?
Not by doing the same things they’ve always done. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
How do towns decide what to do differently?
One way is to send a couple of town leaders to YourTown Mississippi. YourTown Mississippi is a new program put on by the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University with help from the Mississippi Development Authority, the Mississippi Arts Commission, Main Street Mississippi, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Modeled after YourTown Alabama, the program was especially designed to help small towns.
It provides hands-on training in asset identification, marketing and branding, and design and planning. It offers ideas for tourism, downtown revitalization, and art and cultural activities. Plus, participants get to swap ideas with leaders from other small towns.
YourTown Alabama has operated for many years. Participants leave it saying things like, “I would never have thought to look at a town from so many perspectives … This has really broadened my horizons and taught me a lot about how to assess my town … I probably can’t do justice to the thought it has provoked, the energy it inspires, and the hope it gives.”
The three-day workshop will be held May 9-11 at Lake Tiak O’Khata in Louisville. MSU is accepting up to 48 applications at www.sig.msstate.edu through April 23.
Sending folks to YourTown Mississippi could be the best little bit of money a struggling small town invests.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Contact him at crawfolk@gmail.com.