Small towns remain sacred

In case you were not counting, Indiana has 545 cities and towns that existed in both 1970 and 2010. Four of the 1970 towns gave up that designation by 2010 as they either were absorbed by nearby municipalities or regressed into the county as unincorporated places. Merrillville and Winfield, McCordsville and Avon, Darmstadt and Santa Claus are among the new towns since 1970.

Of those 545 continuing cities and towns, 53 percent (291) lost population, with 47 percent (254) gaining. I was presenting these facts to a group when Tommy Toomuch shouted, “Get rid of them.”

“What?” I said. “You can’t just get rid of cities and towns.”

“What is made by man can be unmade by man,” Tommy said.

“Cities and towns are our creations and we can unmake them, particularly if they are unsuccessful. If a place loses population over a 40 year period, would you call it successful? No! Get rid of it. Merge it, consolidate it, but don’t let it just hang on, getting weaker, wasting resources.”

“That’s bold, but not practical,” I said. “There are resources, infrastructure, roads, buildings, maybe sewers and water lines. You can’t just abandon them and leave a ghost town. What about the people, the history, the memories?”

But Tommy wasn’t listening. Instead he was pawing through my notes and grunting emphatically.

“All right,” he said. “Just get rid of the least successful places. For example, what would we lose if we closed down four so-called towns in Marion County that are under 500 people, towns surrounded by the City of Indianapolis with no business centers?”

“Gasp,” I gasped. “Do you know what you are saying? You are talking about Crows Nest, North Crows Nest, Rocky Ripple and Williams Creek.”

“So what?” Tommy asked. “What legitimate function do they serve today?”

Before I could respond, Tommy went on. “I say any place with less than 500 persons, with fewer people today than 40 years ago, is a failure and there is probably no reason to let it continue as anything more than a neighborhood or an unincorporated village.”

Suddenly the audience was alert and asking Tommy, “What other towns would you abolish?”

“I’m not proposing people not live there, but there’s no need for a separate town government. Merge them into a nearby place or let them revert to the county.”

“What towns are you talking about?” The question now had an edge to it.

“Well,” Tommy looked down at my spreadsheet, “I see 129 places under 500 people losing population between 1970 and 2010. That includes Schneider, Napoleon, Riley, Dune Acres, and Stinesville to name just a few.”

“Anarchist,” shouted a woman in the back.

“A heartless bully is what I’d call him,” a man declared and began texting with great fervor.

“Maybe we could also cull the list of another 70 declining places between 500 and a 1,000 persons,” Tommy suggested.

I grabbed my papers and left hurriedly. I don’t go hunting sacred cows.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at