One of the stops on the tour was a young family's emerging loft apartment, which only a few months ago was an empty office. There was a good story about it in Sunday's Martinsville Bulletin; apparently they renovated the space for less than $5000, saving money by DIYing the labor. I met the folks who live there now, and they told me about further renovations they plan to do down the road. Guess what, Martinsville--they're young, and they're returning to the area instead of sprinting away at full speed.
The takeaway lesson from all this was that small towns across America are beginning to rediscover their downtown areas, which have long been neglected due to the proliferation of malls and chain stores. As gas prices start climbing again, there's a lot of interest in returning to a more logical system--walkable urbanism. That's where urban design is headed, and that's what young professionals are beginning to expect when they look for a place to live. Revitalizing Uptown Martinsville will go a long way toward halting the "brain drain" of young people who feel they must leave town. Recently I wrote about stores leaving our local mall and leaving empty storefronts in its wake. Now is the time for local entrepreneurs to retake what was once a bustling center of the community and build new prosperity. Places like Uptown should take advantage of the megamalls' plight and breathe new life into their communities.