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recession positives

Communities Turning Recession and Foreclosures into Positives

August 31, 2009 05:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
In some U.S. locations hit hard by the recession and foreclosures, residents are adapting by looking to the past and reconnecting with their neighbors.

Downturn: Downer or Possibility?

In Valle Vista, Ariz., a wealthy development set in the desert near famous Route 66, more than 100 of the approximately 900 homes have been repossessed by banks, abandoned by their owners or "left only half built," according to Chris McGreal, a reporter following the route of John Steinbeck's depression-era novel "The Grapes of Wrath" for The Guardian.

Valle Vista epitomizes the property struggles of the economic downturn, and McGreal's interviews with residents indicate a sense of hopelessness and loss. But according to some experts and journalists, the downturn represents a positive shift in priorities for others, a back-to-basics spirit that has energized some communities.

In a column for The Washington Post, Neal Peirce discusses how the shift "could have lasting consequences for a happier society." He emphasizes a refocus on "quality spaces" instead of "cheap land," and a desire for "upbeat gathering spots, coffee shops, people-filled parks, in-town concert halls, outdoor art exhibits, farmers' and Christmas markets," rather than "isolated shopping malls, subdivisions or office parks." Peirce sees a nation that is "entertainment-jaded" and ready to awaken to "what links us, not what separates us."

Karen Weideman, a blogger for Thrifty Mommy, has also observed positive changes due to the recession. "People are struggling more than they have in years. Yet one thing we've finally figured out how to do is save our money. Americans are finally putting money into the bank and saving it," she writes.

Amish, Rural Farmers Making Adjustments

Writing for MSNBC, Allison Linn discusses a promising phenomenon evident in Amish communities in Indiana. "The recession also is forcing many to rediscover a tradition of living simply and frugally," Linn explains. As a result, residents of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties have "seen a dramatic increase in signs advertising things like eggs or produce," and a shift away from factory work. According to Linn, banks have seen an increase in "Amish entrepreneurs applying for business loans."

Rural farmers in California are also being forced to change their ways, David Mas Masumoto reports in the Fresno Bee. "Rural communities are entering a new era: Much of our futures are framed not by the individual, but the group," he writes. There are many vacant fields where farms once thrived around Fresno, but responding "creatively," and using "broad based efforts" that involve communities could help rural farmers "weather depressions," Mas Masumoto suggests.

Related Topic: Recession Road Trip chronicles changed lives

Christina Davidson, a reporter for The Atlantic, writes a blog called Recession Road Trip that's taking her across the U.S. meeting with those whose lives have been impacted by the recession—lost jobs, cross-country migrations, hitchhiking, volunteering and the rise of green industry are some of the topics and themes Davidson has covered. Her blog offers a vivid glimpse into the individual lives of Americans, which are too often lumped together into statistics and news bites.

Background: Highest foreclosure rates

In July, foreclosure filings, including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, increased almost 7 percent from June and 32 percent from July 2008, according to RealtyTrac, which released its July 2009 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. Nevada had the highest state foreclosure rate in the U.S. for the 31st month in a row, according to the report, at a rate of "one in every 56 housing units." The highest "state foreclosure activity totals" in July were in California, followed by Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

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