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.
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.
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.
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.