In Defense of a Ghost Town

John Schwenkler, discussing a few other posts in which density is invoked as the Holy Grail of urban planning, points out that by definition, urbanism won’t help rural America:

The real problem, though, is that most of the areas where people are emitting the most carbon per capita and spending the largest portions of their income on gasoline are ones where urbanist solutions are maximally unlikely to work. In the first place, as I have already mentioned, such areas tend to be those in which the local economies are not “thriving”, and it seems a bit cold-hearted to suggest that we pursue economic policies that will turn large portions of the American landscape into ghost towns.

Call me heartless, but I say bring on the ghost towns! Appalachia, for instance, is full of putative “communities” that only stay afloat thanks to severance taxes, disability checks, and Oxycontin sales. A glance at this map shows the combined effect of high fuel prices, long commutes, and lousy wages on Appalachian counties. The coalfields were only populated as densely as they were because self-contained enclaves of corporate micro-statism suited the needs of the industry at the moment it emerged into national and global prominence. Even then, though, right-thinking parents encouraged their children to get educated and eventually leave. Now, on the other hand, politicians sell economic development to nervous parents as a way to keep the next generation close by, even if the young people are all driving an hour to work at a call center.