Small Town America

A few days spent driving through rural western Kansas and Oklahoma in the summer of 2020 revealed a common and familiar scene. It was the confluence of arrow straight highways, around which grew one my countless examples of small-town America: cities in their own right, but still a relative hamlet. Rather than representing simply an enforced speed restriction, there was a lot to observe in these backwaters of the United States.

These cities generally support an economically vital farmer’s Coop operation, often represented by dominating presence of several towering grain silos. However, the presence of these silos often seems like a proxy economic stagnation in the local economies. While those that call these cities home would likely challenge perhaps loosely garnered perspective of a tourist spending but a few fleeting moments on their patch, there did appear to be a sadness in this reality – as if we were witnessing a Route-66 style decline play out in slow motion. Small town America is revered by many on the national stage, but there was no denying the scarcity of any type of activity as we rolled through the states from one such city to another. Indeed, in the build up to an election year, the otherwise passive economic benefits of the Coop were competing only against sales of political yard signs from the back of an SUV.

While I would concede that these observations may be an unfair characterization, it was certainly on my mind when was photographing these cities. The railroad running parallel to the main thoroughfare, but spanning between very distant parts of the country, often seemed like a focal point for the town, and the weed strewn tracks with the background of the Coop seemed to speak simultaneously to the economically depressed nature of the landscape and also to the figurative embodiment of an exit door for those that may feel constrained by these surroundings.

Although a flight of talent is often the root cause of stagnation in these cities, you do have to wonder sometimes what exactly happened on a national stage to allow such economic depression to take root. Globalism and secularism may the answer, and any degree to which such concepts are embraced would have the same inevitable consequences for a local economy. But you also have to bear in mind, the hardy residents may just like it the way it is – Trump flags and all.


  • No Comments