Getting Ahead of the Aging Curve

Preparing for Demographic Change in Rural America

Metro-NonMetro Popultion by Age

Reprinted from the Small Town & Rural Planning newsletter, Fall 2016.

The other night, Planning Commission was looking at demographics in our rural county of about 12,000, with a touch of skepticism.  Archuleta County grew rapidly during the last boom, and fell hard in the housing bust.  Nobody expects that level of growth to return to our corner of the Western US, but things are picking up again.  Oil & Gas are down, but the Four Corners region continues to attract tourism, and we are on track this year to issue the most new single family home permits since 2007.

So what’s changed?  The world has changed, that’s what.  Or more particularly, the demographics of our known world has changed.

As the STaR newsletter noted in Summer 2015, Millenials (ages 18-34 in 2015) now outnumber Baby Boomers (ages 51-69) nationwide.  Generation X (ages 35-50) continue to plug along, caught between the two.  And the Millenials continue to swell, according to the Pew Research Center, as young immigrants follow the American dream.

Small towns are used to hearing about “brain drain” of young adults leaving home for college and life in the big cities.  If you look at US Census figures for population by age, it’s clear that Metropolitan Areas across the US have a younger population profile, with a larger share of population in every age category under 45 years old.  Like much of life, the story—the rural narrative—is more complicated than the sound bite.

Ben Winchester, research fellow with University of Minnesota Extension, has highlighted a trend he dubs “Brain Gain”.  When you look more closely at the Census data, many rural communities are attracting 30-49 year-old adults and their young children, mitigating some of that out-migration.  Going out and talking to real people making this move, folks told Winchester they were looking for “a simpler life, safety and security, affordable housing, outdoor recreation, and.. a quality school.”

Generation X are not the only life-style migrants on the move.  Baby Boomers have been disrupting “normal” their entire lives, and many are entering an “Active Retirement.”  The Baby Boomers, confounding the experts as always, are moving less and when they move are avoiding the expected migration magnets, especially in larger metro areas notes Jeremy Goldstein of Renaissance Planning.

Some Boomers may be trapped underwater by the housing crisis, but others are choosing to age in place, creating “naturally occurring retirement communities”.  As the Urban Land Institute highlights, this creates both challenges and opportunities for local government.

Last year at the APA National Conference in Seattle, the AARP launched the Livability Index, a simple online tool reflecting research into amenities important to many senior citizens—housing, transportation, neighborhood character, environment, health, and civic engagement.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

Millenials are seeking many of the same lifestyle amenities as the Baby Boomers.  As the Urban Land Institute also points out,  Millenials are looking for sustainable, safe, walkable neighborhoods, but also are increasingly concerned with affordability.  As one young professional in Denver explained about their urban neighborhood “There’s sense of community here, with people of all ages doing things together. This is important; it roots me to where I am.”   Even if  you’re not growing, if you build no new homes people are going to look elsewhere.  Build a quality community attractive to Millenials and you’ll have a community attractive across generations.

Affordable housing is a big concern in my mountain community.  Where just a few years ago, foreclosures drove down single-family home prices, it is now  difficult to find long-term rentals, whether due to the popularity of Air-BnB or the general pain-in-the-neck factor of being a landlord in a small town.  To make the rental situation worse, local contractors have not built one new multi-family unit in the County jurisdiction since 2007.

Critics pin the blame for housing inflation on over-regulation, such as building code requirements for minimum square footage and flush toilets, minimum lot sizes and separation of uses.  Maybe there’s something to that.  In September, the White House issued a “Housing Development Toolkit” using the bully pulpit to attack local zoning restrictions and lengthy public review processes.  When both the Cato Institute and President Obama agree on an issue, we better pay attention.

John C. Shepard, AICP, is Planning Manager at Archuleta County, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and outgoing STaR VC-Communications.


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Americana Music Awards Reward Americana Music Fans

Americana Fest 2016

If the world were just, the Americana Music Awards would be the Country Music Awards.  Somewhere along the way, pop music punked country music and Nashville wandered down the path of easy money and middling music.  Blah, blah, blah, you’ve heard it all before.

Americana Music Fans were rewarded again this year with a bold selection of Americana Music Association the end of September, 2016.  By this time, Jason Isbell is well on his way to legendary status, and Chris Stapleton, onetime frontman for The SteelDrivers, is continuing his foray amongst the CMA crowd, reminding them what could have been and could still be.  Twitter friends turned me on to newcomer Margo Price earlier this year, and she is proving a worthy addition to the Americana marquee.  Kudos to NPR for webcasting the awards show.

There’s an interesting fusion in the Americana Music brand of country music.  I like my rock’n music, but I’m more of the Traditional Hank Williams roots branch.  I appreciate the California Graham Parsons sound but never got into the Grateful Dead-Woodstock thing.  To each their own, if they’re honest about it.

Here’s the winners (nomination period, not calendar year) for 2016:

Jason Isbell is touring the East Coast and Gulf Coast in October, sold out shows in Chicago in November.  His wife, Amanda Shires, has a new album out that I’m warming up to, also. She’s playing Austin City Limit Festival today, then going up the opposite way up the Gulf Coast.  In Denver on 6 November and Aspen on the 7th if you need a pre-election pick-me-up.  Can’t imagine the life of a touring couple.

Emmylou was just in Boulder.  Margo Price plays the Bluebird in Denver on 10/24 after gigs in Boise and Salt Lake, on her way to Omaha and St. Paul.  Sara Watkins plays the Bluebird on 4 December after a UK tour.



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Evan McMullin for President of the United States

Evan McMullin

I am supporting Evan McMullin for President of the United States.


Evan McMullin is the #NeverTrump alternative for Conservatives of conscience.  Evan stepped up in August, to provide a positive choice in the 2016 Presidential election.  He was born in Utah, grew up in Washington state, and went to school at BYU and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  He served his faith in Brazil, and worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan.  And on September 11th, Evan McMullin was in training at CIA HQ in Langley, Virginia.  Her served the clandestine service in the War on Terror, then worked in Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs before returning to public service with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  McMullin has been there and done that.

Why McMullin?

On the issues, Evan McMullin offers a positive, principled platform, in contrast to the major party candidates.  McMullin is strong on National Security, with decades of experience out in the field and in the halls of Washington, DC.  And he has called out both Donald Trump’s sycophantic support of Putin’s oppressive rule and Hillary Clinton’s abysmal record as Secretary of State.

Where the major party candidates have enriched themselves by fair means or foul, McMullin understands what its like to earn a living, and has an economic platform supporting reform of the tax code, regulation and entitlement spending.

“America prospers when we compete globally,” he states on his website.  “Negotiate stronger grade deals and enforce the terms of existing agreements to ensure fair competition globally.”  America must not turn our back on the world.

Why Not Vote Libertarian or Green Party?

Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, is an impressive candidate.  Many of my friends are supporting the Governor, and good for them.  If either Gary Johnson or Jill Stein are your cup of tea, good for you.  Evan McMullin is a Conservative candidate offering a platform more Republican than the platform adopted by the Trump GOP.  He also offers more practical experience, and certainly more principled experience than Clinton.  We each must make our own choices, and live with the legacy of our choices.

But Not Voting for Trump/Hillary is Essentially a Vote for Hillary/Trump?

Pox on both their houses: the lesser of two evils is still evil.  It’s like choosing the form of your own death–do you want to die of Cancer or a Stroke?  Either way you are suffering in pain and then dead.  I would have voted for any of the Republican primary candidates, except Donald Trump, but 2016 is a year of evil on evil.  An unfortunate number of politicians have put their own careers over their principles, including Ted Cruz just yesterday.  Don’t choose the form of your Destructor.  Choose life, even if the chance of life is infinitely small.  McMullin acknowledges he doesn’t have much of a chance.  Very little chance.

Yet in 31 States we can vote for that chance.  Evan McMullin is on the ballot in Colorado.  Evan McMullin is on the ballot in Minnesota.  Evan McMullin is on the ballot in New Mexico.  Evan McMullin has qualified as a write-in candidate in Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Texas and several other states.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said it well in endorsing McMullin this week:  he might not win states, but he might ensure neither Trump nor Hillary get to 270, and let the Electoral College do the job the Founding Fathers gave it to do.  At the very least, he gives us a better reason to show up at the polling booth and consider principled down-ballot candidates.

We celebrate heroes who choose the slim chance, and perhaps give up their own lives to save others.  Be a hero this election.  Consider voting for Evan McMullin.


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The Lesser Evil

The “Bad Emperor” Problem

The lesser of two evils is still evil

“An authoritarian system can move much more quickly and decisively than a democratic one, but its success is ultimately dependent on having a continuing supply of good leaders—good not just in a technocratic sense but in their commitment to shared public goals rather than self-enrichment or personal power.”
—Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay

The lesser of two evils is still evil.  #NeverTrump #NeverHillary


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Red Ryder Rodeo, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Red Ryder Roundup 2016The Fourth of July is also known Out West as “Cowboy Christmas”, since there are so many rodeos held that the bucking horse set has a pretty good shot at filling their boot socks with a Summer Santa’s stash.  Western Heritage Events Center, Inc. puts on the annual Red Ryder Roundup Rodeo each year as our entry in Cowboy Christmas right here in the mountains of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Maybe you weren’t around for the original Red Ryder comic strip, drawn by Pagosa-native Fred Harmon from 1938-1964, but I’m sure you remember the Red Ryder BB Gun.  You know… “You’ll shoot your eye out!” from A Christmas Story.  To prove the critics wrong, the Rodeo folks grant each youngster who ride the Mutton Bustin’ a piece of Ralphie’s dream—the kids walk away with a brand new Red Ryder BB Gun.  God bless America.


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Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival

Pagosa Folk 'n Bluegrass Festival tentGreat time was had by all at the 11th Annual Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival this year up on Reservoir Hill.  I even had a blast volunteering.  Having some trouble getting my videos off the fancy new iPhone now.  Hope to post more later.

See you at Four Corners Folk Festival over Labor Day weekend.


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Dori Freeman, Cactus Blossoms and Loretta Lynn—Winter’s Promise for Spring to Come Albums played Jan-May 2016

As spring draws us outside, away from radio and streaming out into Festival season, I’m finding myself still struggling to catch up with some great new Americana/ have been Country before pop-Country killed Music Row releases.  Tops among these through about the first of April:  Dori Freeman, the Cactus Blossoms, and Loretta Lynn.  This Winter has given us a promise for many Springs to come.

Fast Tube

Dori Freeman

Hailing from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, 24-year old Dori Freeman‘s self-titled debut, released in February, earned early praise from the likes of Rolling Stone—but I gave her the benefit of the doubt any way, and am glad I did.  With a strong acoustic opening, the 2nd track “Where I Stood” is my favorite, with a haunting torch on “Lullaby”.  Dori builds on elements of Patsy  Cline and Peggy Lee with modern sensibilities of songwriters like Lori McKenna or Tift Merritt.  Dori Freeman gives me hope for the future of Country music built on a sold foundation of American Roots music.

Dori is playing HoustonFest bluegrass festival 10-11 June, which strangely enough is in southern Virginia, not Texas, but wherever it is the festival has a heck of a lineup.

Fast Tube

Cactus Blossoms

Jack and Page are brothers who like to play music that’s 30-years older than they are.  There’s a definite Everly Brothers vibe to The Cactus Blossoms that my parents first turned me onto, since the brothers hail from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and play music my folks like.  Music I like, too, like Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison haunting Music Row.  In January, The Cactus Blossoms released their national debut, You’re Dreaming, produced by J.D. McPherson, following up on a 2012 self-titled self-release I played the heck out of in my truck’s CD player.  Two of those tracks made the new album, “Traveler’s Paradise” and my favorite, “Adios Maria”, both penned by Jack.

After Memorial Day, the Cactus Blossoms are playing a couple dates in Wisconsin before heading south thru Cedar Rapids, Kansas City, and OKC on their way to Austin City Limits Live 14 June.

Fast Tube

Loretta Lynn

The great Loretta Lynn comes Full Circle from her excellent 2004 album Van Lear Rose with her new March release.  John Carter Cash and Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell produced this legacy album with a mix re-recording Lynn classics (i.e. “Fist City”), old-time mountain classics (A.P. Carter’s “Black Jack David”) with countrypolitan classics (“Always on My Mind”).  Hopefully, J.C. Cash does for the Loretta legacy what Rick Rubin did for Johnny’s legacy.

And believe it or not, at 80+ years old, Loretta Lynn is still holding events, with two Oklahoma casino shows 10-11 June, then 24 June up to Prairie’s Edge Casino at Granite Falls, a stone’s throw from my old Minnesota home.

And that’s not all folks…

Several other new album releases have caught my attention so far in 2016.  Caitlin Canty‘s Reckless Skyline was the year’s first good Americana release.  Margo Price‘s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and Jane Kramer‘s Carnival of Hopes caught my ear over the colder months.  I’ve also kept spinning Brennen Leigh Sings Lefty Frizzle and Sunny Sweeney‘s Provoked (along with their duet “But You Like Country Music”) from late in 2015.

I’m also really excited about my first Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival after Memorial Day.  Come on over Wolf Creek Pass 3-5 June and kick off festival season right.



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Springtime in the Rockies

Treasure Falls April 2016

Treasure Falls, below Wolf Creek Pass on US Hwy 160, Pagosa Springs, Colorado. April 2016.

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Disagreeing, Without Being Disagreeable

Fast Tube

Can we disagree, without being disagreeable?  US House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) thinks so.  Ryan flies the flag of Jack Kemp’s optimistic conservatism.  I wasn’t such a fan of Kemp back in the day (I don’t usually trust Quarterbacks).

“Ideas, passionately promoted, put to the test. That’s what politics can be. That’s what our country can be.”  With experience, I am much more appreciative of the importance of good governance and the hard work of debating ideas instead of attacking individuals.

This PBS Newshour video is a bit of a long read in our Twitter age.  The Speaker offers about 15 minutes, speaking to young people in the House Ways & Means chambers, with about 15 minutes of Q&A.  It’s worth your time in these troubling times.


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I have been more-or-less politically active since I was young, but have mostly avoided politics in favor of policy (and the pursuit of Americana) on this blog.  I do follow conservative politics, and am professionally committed to good governance, but have not declared for a presidential candidate this election cycle.  However, in advance of Colorado’s caucuses (even in absence of a presidential preference poll), I am compelled to declare that I will never, never, never support the candidacy of one Donald Trump.

I believe that Eric Erickson makes the case in his new blog, The Resurgent:

 I will not vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States even if he is the Republican nominee.

He is an authoritarian blending nationalist and tribal impulses, which historically has never worked out well for the nation that goes in that direction or the people in that nation.

He will not win in November. He will not win because he turns off a large number of Republicans; he turns off women; he turns off hispanic voters; he turns off black voters; and the blue collar voters who support him are not a sufficient base of support to carry him over the finish line….

Trump is a liberal who has supported big government, interventionist policies. He defends Planned Parenthood, says he can cut deals in Washington, and believes in a socialist government run healthcare scheme.

At a time when so much is on the line for people of faith and conservatives, Donald Trump believes judges sign bills….

Trump is also a con-artist and the media, which has built his campaign is going to destroy his campaign. After he secures the Republican nomination, the media will trot out every victim and perceived victim of Trump’s actions. All the people hurt by repeated strategic bankruptcies, all the people swindled by Trump University, and anyone who got food poisoning from Trump steaks will be in a 24/7 cavalcade on national television.

By the time the media and Democrats, but I repeat myself, are done with Trump, he will be radioactive.

Donald Trump will not win in November. Period. End of story….

If there ever was an East Coast liberal RINO—Republican In Name Only—he would be the one.  If I believed in conspiracy theories, I would strongly suspect the Clintonistas had put Mr. Trump up to it, as a Establishment Trojan horse.  Unfortunately, that would be too neat a scenario.  The script was set by the coarseness of our national debate and the devolution of Reality TV infotainment.  Unfortunately, democracy too often serves up the candidates we deserve.

It may be too late to #DumpTrump, but it is never too late to take a stand for common decency.



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