An attractive and functional physical environment is increasingly considered important in generating civic pride and community spirit yet, in many small communities, care for community space is plainly inadequate. Often no one seems to know definitively who owns large empty areas and they are therefore not put to any intentional use. Moreover, although some houses may be well built and in good repair, some often seem to be barely standing. Trash often litters the streets and untreated sewage pollutes the water. Sewage flows in front of the houses in open ditches, and yards, roadsides, ditches and waterways are littered with overflow from inadequate trash receptacles. Merchants admit that the downtown business complexes are frequently unattractive.
Once prosperous communities are deteriorating for a number of related reasons: companies facing restrictive taxation and high salary costs choose to leave single-industry towns, thus causing an employment vacuum; people are forced to find jobs in other locations, and the population quickly falls far below what it had been. People who owned their own homes may no longer live in the community but retain ownership of the property; absentee landlords and the practice of informal property exchange make contact with landholders difficult when houses and lot upkeep is required; this often results in neglect. Vacant property invites clutter, vandalism and even danger, which is demoralizing to any community.
Small, diminishing communities which used to serve a much larger population tend to present a a run-down appearance, with well-kept houses and gardens surrounded by empty lots on which dilapidated out buildings and abandoned junk are only partially hidden by tall weeds. The uncared for and unused space reminds both residents and visitors of the booming past and suggests only the imminent possibility of further decay and devaluation, as people move away rather than pay the price of demolition and new housing, or those without the resources to move out, buy trailers rather than renovate the old dwellings. The dilapidated and unused spaces become a formidable symbol of decay.