The American Conservative recently printed a version of a speech given by Bill Kauffmann. He was speaking at “Revitalizing Jackson’s Main Street,” an event held by The American Conservative in Jackson, Michigan in September. Kauffmann is a prolific author, and in his book Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, he focuses on small town America. In his speech he outlined the prospect for revitalizing small towns. He said (abridged):
In 2003 I published a book called Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette, which is, megalomaniacally, a memoir about my repatriation to Batavia, but it’s also about the way that Batavia—and by extension all the Batavias from sea to dimming sea—has struggled to maintain a distinct identity, a character, rather than becoming just another formless wattle on the continental blob.
I don’t know how much anyone here knows of Batavia. Batavia was a prosperous little city, manufactory of combines and tractors and shotguns. English and Scots and Germans were the early settlers, coexisting uneasily with the late 19th-century polyglot influx of Italians and Poles.
In some ways we were a typical small American city but in other ways we were “Batavia”—our own place. We did not yet bow down before the new American royalty: Burger King and Dairy Queen.
Then, as Joseph Heller would say, something happened. Batavia tore out its five-block heart and filled the cavity with a ghastly mall….
So what do you do when your small city has been leveled by well-meaning but fatuous city fathers who can’t resist the lure of “free” federal money?
There are many ways of going, as a poet who lived in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, once said. In the new issue of The American Conservative, which you are sitting on, I write about my friend Tim Tielman, the charismatic urban geographer who has done so much to revitalize Buffalo.
Joseph Ellicott, who at the beginning of the 19th century founded both Buffalo and Batavia, remarked, “God made Buffalo; I will try and make Batavia. In any event, Tim and many others are now doing God’s work in Buffalo
As for Batavia….I am of the old Thoreauvian school that distrusts big political solutions. It was the federal government that demolished our little city, so I don’t turn first to the federal government to rebuild it.
DIY, as the old punk rock ethos went. Do it yourself. And across America, from Grand River Brewery to Front Porch Republic Books, people are doing it themselves.
Read more here.