The downtown merchants were blown out a generation ago, replaced by a WalMart or, if the town is small enough, a Dollar General. But until recently there was life at the center. There was a bank, and an insurance agent. There were lawyers and doctors, self-employed. There were real estate offices and, near the WalMart, a car dealer. There was a newspaper.
These people had college educations, serious skills, and deep knowledge of the local scene. If someone wanted to move in, they had to go to the local real estate office, and ask the local bank for a mortgage. If someone wanted to move out, the bank was where they went for the money, the auto dealer was the only place to get a car, and the local insurance agent made the car legal. The newspaper knew where all the bodies were buried, and thus so did everyone else.
These were the gatekeepers of suburban order. The insurance men, the bankers, the mortgage men, were the paper pushers of financial stability. They played golf together. They ran the school board, and the city council. Even when the former factory workers descended into meth addiction, the gatekeepers knew their place was secure. They kept the crazy on the down-low.
Then something happened, in this decade, something that has yet to be given serious consideration by any political pundit.
The gatekeepers were replaced by apps.