Saturday, March 17, 2007

Remember Northern Exposure?

If you ever wanted to live in rural Alaska, you can get a free acre in Anderson Alaska, if you act fast:

In a modern twist on the homesteading movement that populated the Plains in the 1800s, the community of 300 people is offering 26 large lots on spruce-covered land in a part of Alaska that has spectacular views of the Northern lights and Mount McKinley, North America's highest peak.

And what's an occasional day of 60-below cold in a town removed from big-city ills?

"It's Mayberry," said Anderson high-school teacher Daryl Frisbie, whose social studies class explored ways to boost the town's dwindling population. Students developed a Web site and Power Point presentation, then persuaded the City Council to give it a go.

"Are you tired of the hustle and bustle of the Lower 48, crime, poor schools, and the high cost of living?" the Web site asks. "Make your new home in the Last Frontier!"

The 1.3-acre lots will be awarded to the first people who apply for them and submit $500 refundable deposits beginning at 9 a.m. Monday. Each winning applicant must build a house measuring at least 1,000 square feet within two years. Power and phone hookups are already available.

In case you're thinking 'well, someplace in the balmy southern part of Alaska would be ok,' don't get too excited. It's here.

I'm not sure this will have the desired effect. The article suggests that local renters may have the inside track on the new lots - so it may not increase the population all that much anyway.

On a more serious note, this points up the challenge faced by small towns in many parts of the US. A great deal of attention has been paid to the growth of suburbs and exurban areas in the US - creating in some an impression that the population is spreading out across the whole of the US. But small towns are dying, and the community of Anderson, Alaska is hardly alone.

If you want free land in Kansas for example, you can get some in Marquette or Minneapolis. I don't believe they have as many days colder than 60 below as Anderson, Alaska. I bet there are plenty of other rural communities where you can get land for free - or nearly so. The question is how many people still want that lifestyle; or how many would prefer to shop at Costco, get coffee at Starbucks, go to restaurants with varied cuisines,and have a choice of a different first-run movie every night of the week.

For all the complaints about the homogenization of America, there are a lot more Americans in that latter group, nowadays.

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