Want more people? Be ‘interesting’

The population of Marion County hovers around 12,000 souls. What would it take to double this in the next decades? Or, is slow population decline inevitable in this region?

The second question is, does the county want growth that matches the demographics of America?meaning solid numbers of young persons in addition to retired persons?

Baby boomers are inevitably a growing segment of Marion County. The mild climate, good recreation facilities, wonderful senior programs and retirement centers plus a low cost of living all serve to make the area attractive. For some urbanites, low housing costs are the biggest magnet to the area.

There are, unbelievably, inhabitable homes for sale in the county costing less than a remodeling job for a kitchen in Chicago.

I know this to be a fact. It is a major reason for my planning to move to Hillsboro once my Social Security checks start showing up in the mail.

Retired folks are wonderful new citizens for Marion County. (I will, doubtless, be the exception.) They do volunteer work, often attend church faithfully, pay their bills on time, stay out of jail and don?t make a lot of noise late at night. They pollute less than the average resident since they walk, ride bicycles and don?t throw away a lot of stuff in the garbage.

There is a downside to population growth based on aging. First, they don?t spend as much money in the local economy as does a family with four kids.

Second, their frugality and thrift can make them opposed to change and a voting block for lower taxes.

Third, we don?t stay around forever.

Vibrant growth is dependent upon retaining and attracting younger people to the county. The traditional way to attract them is to promise jobs and decent school systems.

Often overlooked is their subtle requirement that any place to which they relocate or stay must be ?interesting.? Younger folks demand both bread and circuses.

Urban planners are paying attention to this phenomenon and rural folks had best start paying attention.

?Why do college graduates consider Austin, Texas, a great place for a new job while Kalamazoo, Mich., is considered a deathtrap?? asks the hotshot urban growth consultant, Richard Florida in his book, ?The Rise of the Creative Class??

After all, both are cities of about the same size with parallel pay scales. He goes on to ask why some urban neighborhoods are ?hot spots? attracting new residents while similar areas continue to decline.

His answer is simple. Austin is a funky and messy city with space for artists, musicians, computer geeks and Bohemians.

Even the most respectable Baptists can find something interesting in Austin. Kalama?zoo is boring.

Hot neighborhoods such as mine in Chicago are a crazy quilt of Hispanic and East European restaurants and churches with space for lofts, art galleries and interesting shops. Rich folks love building million-dollar homes here.

If Richard Florida is right, then the secret for Marion County growth might be hidden in the annual arts and crafts fairs.

Add to the annual events and throw in more antique stores, pottery shops and quilt stores, add a few more funky restaurants and bars along with a some houses and shops skirting the edge of building code violations.

The county has too few eccentrics and cranks, too few Democrats, too few Bohemians and too few computer geeks to be attractive to most newcomers. (If they cannot be attracted perhaps they could be hired to play these roles much like a duck decoy.)

The challenge for Marion County is not how to promote the area as a ?nice? place to live but rather to identify how it could become an interesting place for new residents.

You can contact the writer at Dale.Suderman@gmail.com

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