116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Main Street in Coggon is disappearing.
Its once-vibrant downtown area is struggling to retain its residents as well as its mom-and-pop shops that lined the main thoroughfare of this northern Linn County city, population 650.
'My opinion is, looking at small towns as start-up communities is what we need to do to save them and the resources they represented."
- Michael LeClere
Architect and Coggon, Iowa, native
It is not alone. More than 60 percent of cities in Iowa have lost population since 2010, according to a 2014 study by the Iowa State University Department of Economics.
Michael LeClere, 32, an architect and landscape architect in residence with Martin Gardner Architecture in Marion, grew up in Coggon, about 30 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids.
Only a handful of businesses now occupy Main Street, he said — a gas station, a bank, a restaurant, the library and City Hall.
In 2010, LeClere, while a student at the University of Oregon, wrote a thesis about communities with populations of fewer than 1,000, and he used his hometown as a case study.
LeClere found that losing downtown buildings can be detrimental to a community's economy and also has severe environmental impacts.
The environmental impact of demolishing every downtown building, for example, is two to three times worse that the BP oil spill in 2010 that dumped billions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, he contended.
The solution to fill these empty buildings and shrinking cities and towns? LeClere said it could be to bring in entrepreneurs.
'My opinion is, looking at small towns as start-up communities is what we need to do to save them and the resources they represented,' he said.
With the population slide continuing in many of Iowa's rural communities, LeClere warned more elected officials as well as economic-development and business leaders need to rethink how they can encourage and nourish revitalization.