Deconstructing the rural West

  Patrick Jobes has written a profoundly pessimistic analysis of the fate of the West's attractive, or amenity, towns in the April/May 1995 issue of Western Planner. Fortunately, the article by the Montana State University sociologist is so densely written that its full, depressing impact may hit only those who reread it several times.

Based on work done over the last 20 years in Montana's Gallatin Valley and centered on Bozeman, Jobes concludes that newcomers to the West are fated to remain forever new since they move again and again: "80 percent of the newcomers to the Gallatin Valley had moved away within 10 years, and the residents in particularly visible tourist towns, like Aspen and West Yellowstone, were even more migratory."

Newcomers are also hypocrites when it comes to maintaining the environment: "For example, they initiated "view shed" ordinances to make the town appear nested in nature at the same time that subdivisions were exploding in natural areas. They drafted statutes to regulate appearance, but rarely became engaged with community organizations. They said they loved nature, yet they participated in it gradually less." The influx of new people destroyed the community: "There was not, and indeed could not be, true community in such places because they lacked the sustained personal, informal commitment to other residents and to the locals."

Jobes scoffs at the idea of substantial numbers of professional "lone eagles' earning good livings in these areas: "Popular observers emphasize higher-profile, "lone-eagle" professionals moving to such localities. While a few professionals derive their income from other locations, their percentage is low and declining." Newcomers, he continues, soon join oldtimers in demanding growth: "The longer they lived in these areas, the more acceptable growth became and the greater their opposition to planning and environmental protection." The newcomers may demand this growth because they cannot make a living: "In spite of the relatively higher growth and perceived success of such areas, the proportion of residents officially designated as below poverty is increasing. In Bozeman, the percent below poverty jumped from 9.5 percent in 1980 to 25.2 percent in 1990."

Jobes concludes: "Collectively, the quantity and quality of newcomers literally deconstructs traditional small towns."

A copy of the newsletter is available for $5 from Western Planner, Worthington, Lenhart and Carpenter, 200 Pronghorn St., Casper, WY 82601; (307/266-2524). When you write or call, ask for the appendix of tables and charts, which were not printed with the article.

* Ed Marston