Friday, June 4, 2010

Two very different ways to bolster rural economies

Today's New York Times features these stories side by side: "School Turned Strip Club Bothers the Alumni" and "Alamosa Journal: Going Solar is Harder than it Looks, a Valley Finds." The dateline for the first is Neoga, Illinois, population 1,854, in the east central part of the state. The dateline for the second is Alamosa, Colorado, population 7,960, in the south central part of that state. The first story, by Malcolm Gay, reports on a former school just outside the town of Neoga that two men have turned into a strip club, the only one in a 60-mile radius. The second tells of Alamosa's struggle to become a center of solar power. Ultimately--to some extent--both are about rural economies and very different strategies for improving them.

Here's an excerpt from the Illinois story:
But near the entrance to the cafeteria, where generations from this central Illinois farming community took their school lunches, one sign reveals just how dramatically the yellow brick building’s role has shifted: “Our dancers are entertainers not prostitutes so don’t ask!!!”

* * *
“We don’t want this kind of filth in our county,” said Bill Moran, 70, who lives across the road. “What you get out of a place like this is rape, venereal diseases and a lot of divorces.”

Others, including the owners, say it is a legitimate business that has benefited the community by creating jobs.

“I really don’t think it’s that bad a place if it’s helping money-wise,” said Danny Reed, 25, an electrician who said he had never been to the club. “It’s a small town. If you don’t work at a gas station you pretty much don’t have a job.”

And here's one from the Colorado story, which reports on obstacles in the way of the solar power farm:
Meanwhile, complications of self interest, aesthetics and politics continue to swirl. Some farmers are negotiating to sell land for solar development, or eyeing their neighbors who already have. Mr. Kirkpatrick [a third-generation farmer in the valley, aged 52] sold 320 acres to the SunPower Corporation, based in California, which is building the project near his home — the $880,000 from the sale, he said, provided his mother with a retirement plan.
* * *
But the crosswinds are still twisting the lives of people like Debbie and Sean Canada. The Canadas are not farmers, and so have no land to sell. Their neighbor, though, is selling land where he currently cultivates carrots, yards away from their back porch. This could reduce the value of their home by as much as 50 percent, according to a recent appraisal, Ms. Canada said.
This reminds me of other natural energy resources that are pitting neighbor against neighbor, in the northeast. Read more here.

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