July 09 2013

The Infamity of Muncie, America’s Forgotten Middletown

In 1924, Muncie, a small city 60 miles north-east of Indianapolis in Indiana, was the subject of a socio-economic research conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd. In 1929, the Lynd’s published the results of their study in “Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture,” a book that will set this small industrial community as a model of the average small size American city. The Lynd’s research explored social and economic structures of the working class in Muncie and described the changes these structures endured due to the rapid industrialization and the rise of the working class.

Photo Credit: Mohammed Bahaydar

The Lynds came back to Muncie in 1937 to publish a follow-up study, “Middletown in Transition.” Attracted by the Lynds’ research model, researchers continue to come to Muncie to pursue the Middletown legacy, publishing their results respectively in 1979, 1983, 1991, and 2000. With a considerable database tracking and reporting on its history’s facts and changes, Muncie is currently the most studied city of its size (less than 100,000 people) in the U.S.

Muncie may not be currently representative of the average American small city. With a slow growth rate, a decline in population due to loss of local industries, and high unemployment rate (9.8% in 2011), Muncie is more of an example of what’s happening in the once prosperous industrial communities of the rust belt area located in the Northeast and the East North Central States.

Photo Credit: Mohammed Bahaydar

But Middletown legacy continues.

Its importance lies in the fact that it explores and acknowledges a part of urban life in the US that is not dependent on or related to major metropolises.

Photo Credit: Mohammed Bahaydar

Last year Muncie integrated complete streets in its downtown urban design. It has also developed a façade rehabilitation program to highlight the historic architecture of its Main Street as well as a branding campaign to promote downtown living. The university (Ball State University) and the hospital (Ball Memorial Hospital) are now the biggest employers in the city and are considered its major economic assets not its industrial workforce.

As Muncie is facing current urban challenges many policies and strategies need to be adopted to achieve smart and sustainable growth. Could you recognize your hometown, a town that you have visited or stayed in, in Muncie’s features? Could you define it as a Middletown?

Credits: Images by Mohammed Bahaydar. Data linked to sources.

Sarah Essbai

Sarah Essbai graduated recently with a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University in Indiana where she pursued her studies as a Fulbright scholar. Prior to moving to the US, Sarah obtained her Diplome d’Architecte from the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture in Rabat, Morocco. In Morocco, Sarah worked on the development of a green lodging facility in the Moroccan desert as well as the historic rehabilitation of the historic center of Fez, her hometown. Sarah’s interests include affordable housing, which was the subject of her master’s thesis, community development, real estate crowdfunding and social design. She believes that within these topics, sustainability should be inherent and should be a necessary component of every design project and development.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 at 9:47 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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4 Responses to “The Infamity of Muncie, America’s Forgotten Middletown”

  1. Mark Darrall Says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Sarah!

    I’ve been fortunate to have had a hand in preserving and renovating some of the buildings in downtown Muncie. As a part of an overall economic development plan, the facade programs have been very successful – they’ve returned almost 15 times their public cost in private investment.

    There is still much to do in Muncie in terms of revitalizing the overall economy, but it will take a regional strategy involving communities cooperating rather than competing.

  2. Sarah Essbai Says:

    Thank you for your comment Mark!
    Throughout the two years that I spent in Muncie, I have seen many small initiatives growing into real events gathering people and sparkling interest.
    Muncie has great potential and regional cooperation is key, as you mentioned, to achieve economic development.

  3. Todd Smekens Says:

    I still consider Muncie the microcosm of the United States. We have everything occurring at a small scale with decline in industry, the collapse of the democrat party (or redefining of the party’s mission), education constraints, crumbling infrastructure, poor health and wellness, a plutocracy where government has limited funds, while a few wealthy trusts have much, racial tensions, immigrants (both legal and illegal), and a struggling working/middle class.

    The newspaper has a conservative bias and tells a completely different story than reality. It picks and chooses its coverage carefully and is used to protect the oligarchs in the community.

    While regional cooperation is key, I believe that Muncie is in a position to focus on local sustenance. We have the resources to make it happen, and we’ll have to get over intentional political wedges, and social prejudices, but we are poised to make it happen. Too many people who are idol, and unhealthy. Like most communities across the country, we’ll have to seek ways to become more self reliant by leveraging what we have in place, and then collaborate beyond those limits.

  4. Sarah Essbai Says:

    Thanks for your comment Todd!
    Muncie is indeed representative of a significant part of the American Urban Life, and like most cities in the US (regardless of their size), it has to work out through different challenges related to economic development, health care and poverty.
    The exploitation of local resources and talents along with regional collaboration will both contribute to improve the quality of life in Muncie and create a healthy community.

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