Gibson City, Ill. (pop. less than 10,000) is a town in the eastern part of its state near nothing in particular, save similar small towns with names like Sibley and Foosley.
It is remarkable for the fact that the far-flung McDonald's Corp. has plucked it out of middle America to become the site of the very first "Mini-Mac," a fast-food outlet half the size of a conventional McDonald's restaurant. It is geared to a small-town, small-volume production of the corporation's comestibles, "Big Macs" and "Quater Pounders."
Gibson City's Mini-Mac has been doing exceptionally well since its June 15 opening, a McDonald's spokesman said. The Mini-Mac experiment began in that part of the country, he added, because "a lot of people are out there - there's an upsurge in small communities."
McDonald's, as usual, is on the cutting edge.
Recent census figures indicate that more and more Americans are taking to rural life. For the first time in U.S. history, rural America has grown faster than urban America. Since 1970, non-metropolitan areas have increased in Population by 6.3 per cent, as opposed to a 3.6 per cent rise in the population of metropolitan areas.
This is being heralded as a "dramatic reversal" in population trends by some members of the community of academics, government planners, and assorted sooth-sayers who pay attention to who is living where and for how long. Other facts that interest them.
Since 1970, the South has emergency as the region experiencing the nation's largest population gains.
In 1976, more people lived in the South and West than in the North for the first time in U.S. history.
U.S. population is increasing but at a steadily declining rate. An 8 per cent increase is predicted for the 1970s, compared with a 19 per cent increase in the 1960's.
American are getting older. The median age in 1970 was 27.9; in 1975 it was 28.8.
Fewer Americans are being born. In 1975 the birth rate was 14.7 births per 1,000, the lowest rate in U.S. history.
These statistic are among the data that prompted the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Ford Foundation to fund a $20.000, three-day workshop on population redistribution at the National Academy of Sciences recently. Assorted expert were there to debate the meaning of cesus number.
Many of their predictions about the United States in 1980 were, predicted, tied to the cost of energy, which some said would not be prohibitive.
Cars will continue to dominate as a private transportation mode, particularly with the declining birth rate, said some, but others predicted the paling of the car as an America love object.
One expert saw " a substaintial reduction in housing as a capital-cumulative device and as a status device - the age of the 'bigger house, better house' may be drawing to close."
"I disagree," said another. "We must consider the attitudes and aspirations of the Baby Boom generation. We have raised a fat generation. We have raised a fat generation on television and they have received image after image of houses as status symbols, Houses, not cars."
And so on and so forth. Predicting the future, even the short-term future, is as dubious a proposition for professional statiscians as it is for laymen. Numbers are deceiving, and, according to some futurists, we are being deceived even now.
Stanford University economist Richard Muth, for one, is doubtful that the post-1970 census report really indicates an out-migration from the central cities. He believes that the increase in non-metropolitan population since 1970 may simply reflect "overspill" into nearby areas from central cities.
And Wendell Black of the Chamber of Commerce is "suspicious of the whole 'holow doughnut' idea" that central cities are dying as surrounding suburbs are filling up.
Even as participants in last week Population Redistribution workshop headed of home to begin work on a book they are collectively writing on the decentralization of America Post 70 trends, the Senate Banking committee was preparing movement of people into central city neighborhood.
"I think the demographers and type of people at the workshop and about five years behind," said a Banking Committee staff member.
The difference of opinion results from diferent sets of numbers.
Frank James of the Urban Institute, said, "I dont think population figures are the place to look. For example, here in D.C. on Capitol Hills, small families are displacing larger ones any you tend to get population decline and not growth.
"But housing maintenance costs improvement costs and rents are going up - when you look doubt that since around 1973 here's been a rapid since influx into the central city, maybe not a a back-to-the -city movement but rather one from within, from apartments to more expense, of ten old housing"
While some members of he Baby Boom generation are moving into central city neighborhood, others are indeed taking the farm. As with Gibson City's Mini-Mac, the most vivid evidence is anecdotal.
Calvin Hamilton, Director of Planning for the City of Los Angeles, raise three sons in various cities. Now all three live in rural areas, one on a farm in Kentucky.