19 Small US Towns To Avoid Due to Urban Decay

There’s no doubt that the U.S. is the land of opportunity, but some towns are not reflective of that label. In this article, we delve into the stories of 19 small U.S. towns struggling with the complexities of urban decay.

Cairo, Illinois

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Once a thriving hub of commerce and transportation, Cairo has seen a significant population decline caused by economic downturns and racial tensions. The presence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers no longer brings prosperity, leading to a sharp decrease in economic activity. Data USA reports that 28.7% of the people in Cairo are living in poverty.

Picher, Oklahoma

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Picher is considered one of the most toxic towns in America due to lead and zinc mining residues, leading to its eventual evacuation. The Oklahoma Historical Society reports that the town produced over $20 billion in ore from 1917 to 1947. Too much industrial exploitation has led to abandoned homes, unsafe water, and sinkholes in the region, pushing out many locals.

Gary, Indiana

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Gary, once a booming steel town, is now home to a sea of abandoned buildings and factories. The high crime rates are another downside. The decline of the steel industry has left intense damage, pushing residents to leave in search of better opportunities.

Centralia, Pennsylvania

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The underground mine fire that began in 1962 turned Centralia into a ghost town. To this day, there is still smoke coming from cracks in the ground. The town is now known to many as a cautionary tale about the dangers of ignoring mining safety and environmental health.

Selma, Alabama

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Despite its important role in the Civil Rights Movement, Selma still struggles with high poverty rates and educational challenges. According to the World Population Review, the average household income in Selma is $46,763, with a poverty rate of 29.52%. The presence of the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge only overshadows the city’s economic hardships and the need for economic development.

Youngstown, Ohio

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No town reflects the Rust Belt struggles more than Youngstown and its decline. Unfortunately, any attempts at repurposing industrial land have only left unpleasant marks on the cityscape. There are efforts to reinvent the city, focusing on technology, education, and the arts, but time will tell if they work.

Flint, Michigan

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The water crisis brought national attention to Flint’s long-standing issues with poverty, infrastructure decay, and public health. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the water in Flint tripled the number of children with higher than normal blood lead levels. While there is still a long way to go, Flint has shown resilience in its fight for the right to clean water and a sustainable future.

Camden, New Jersey

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Once a thriving industrial town, Camden now faces high crime rates, poverty, and educational challenges. The city’s rich cultural and historical heritage contrasts sharply with the realities of urban collapse. We are yet to see if the community initiatives will restore Camden’s pride and potential.

East St. Louis, Illinois

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East St. Louis’s challenges include high crime rates, economic stagnation, and population decline. The city’s proximity to St. Louis offers enormous economic potential. Current efforts to bridge the divide with St. Louis through collaboration reflect a long-term vision for growth.

Harlan, Kentucky

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The coal industry’s decline has left Harlan grappling with job losses, poverty, and a shrinking population. Despite the rugged beauty of the neighboring Appalachian Mountains, the economic hardships faced by residents make it less than pleasant to live in.

Detroit, Michigan

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Detroit’s bankruptcy marked a turning point in addressing its problems. There seems to be hope for the towns as the city has employed tactics such as urban farming and green spaces, which have breathed some life into the area. Despite some progress, many areas of Detroit continue to struggle today.

Stockton, California

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Stockton’s bankruptcy in 2012 brought to light significant economic and social issues, yet it also paved the way for innovative governance and community-driven recovery efforts. The city’s cultural vibrancy and community engagement efforts are key drivers of its ongoing transformation.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

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Beyond the glittering casinos and resorts, Atlantic City battles with poverty, unemployment, and urban decay. The city’s over-dependency on the gambling industry has become more evident during economic downturns and a rise in competition. Luckily, the state is making efforts to diversify the economy and restore the city’s former glory.

Reading, Pennsylvania

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Once a manufacturing hub, Reading now ranks high among the towns with the highest poverty rates in the U.S. Failure to achieve economic transition has left the town struggling despite having a very rich history and architectural heritage.

Scranton, Pennsylvania

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Scranton’s history as a coal mining and rail center is overshadowed by its current economic challenges. Efforts to capitalize on its historic sites and cultural assets are hoping to revive economic growth. For example, the town has capitalized on the Steamtown National Historic Site, which celebrates its railroad history.

Macon, Georgia

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Despite its historical significance and cultural riches, Macon faces challenges in education, economic development, and public safety. Projects like the Macon Action Plan aim to revitalize the downtown area, improve public spaces, and push economic development. The Ocmulgee Heritage Trail expands green spaces along the Ocmulgee River, hoping to enhance quality of life and maybe even attract visitors.

Charleston, West Virginia

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The decline of the coal industry has significantly impacted Charleston’s economy, leading to job losses and population decline. The state has pivoted to promoting the arts, technology, and tourism as alternative economic drivers. Charleston’s natural beauty offers a unique opportunity to rebuild without investing too much in new infrastructure.

Newburgh, New York

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Despite its picturesque location on the Hudson River, Newburgh is mostly known for its high crime rate and economic stagnation. We might see some improvements in the future, as Newburgh’s historic streets and waterfront are a great starting point for the authorities to rebuild.

Danville, Virginia

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At one time a thriving textile and tobacco hub, Danville now faces the realities of industrial decline and the need for economic reinvention. Similar to many towns on this list, Danville is struggling to find a way after relying on one industry for too long. There is currently a focus on technology and education, so we may see some positive change in the near future.

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