There’s a post on Cairo, Illinois on BoingBoing this morning, which led to some fascinating reading about how the city basically died, and how some punks tried to bring it back to life.
It turns out Cairo is one of many broken cities in the great interior of the U.S., a hollowed-out shell of a place where people seem to be hanging on more by habit than anything else. This is becoming all too common (see: Methland) as industries abandon the heartland for cheap wages overseas, army bases and defense plants are closed, and agriculture becomes increasingly concentrated into the hands of a few corporate owners.
Cairo had another problem, however: evil. Cairo was broken as much by racism as it was by economics.
A group of punks took advantage of the rock-bottom price of real estate in Cairo, and has started a coffeehouse/bookstore there. They hoped to attract others, who will make their living off their Internet stores and occasional band tours, bringing money back into a town that desperately needs it.
It sounds a lot like the time my college friends and I rented a run-down house our senior year with the hope of renovating it and turning it into our own Bohemian version of Walden. It ended with one of us in a mental institution — no shit — but in spite of all that, I still think the idea is sound.
Places like Cairo could be test labs for a new way of living. Instead of heading to the big cities upon graduation, all those lost Gen Y types might look to this as another model. Almost nobody in his twenties can afford to buy a house or apartment in LA or NYC, and the great mortgage clusterfuck has destroyed the chances of home ownership in most other places, too. Even rent is out of the question for a lot of people. But all over the country are these pockets of abandoned urbanism. It will take a lot of hours to rebuild the decayed infrastructure, but when you’re 26, what do you have besides time on your hands?
As long as they have a broadband connection and access to lots of Time-Life DIY books, it’s possible that a whole generation could find homes in places like Cairo.
Yeah, I know. Probably not. But it has to beat living with your mom.