What if a village population is aging, no new residents are arriving — and the villagers are completely okay with that?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “The American Who Manages the Decline of a Japanese Hamlet” looks at the village of Tsuchikure, home to 24 residents who are an average of 77 years old. Tsuchikure was home to more than 100 residents in the 1950s, but some moved away in search of better employment, and new residents were scarce. Now, the remaining residents are aging, ailing, or dying. And they have decided that “rather than come up with ways to lure new residents and keep the town alive,” they are going to let it slowly extinguish.

An American, Jeffrey Irish, is the village chief; he tends to administrative issues. He also is there to help ensure that the villagers’ wish is carried out when the last villager dies. Irish has written a column about life in the fishing village, preserving bits of oral and cultural history from that corner of Japan. The column has been expanded into a book, “The Forgotten Japanese: Encounters With Rural Life and Folklore,” to be published next year.

While extreme, the experience in Tsuchikure presents one alternative to a city that is losing far more population than it gains. It takes courageous leadership to let something die with you. One of the reader comments on the article suggests that Detroit is likely to experience the same fate. While Detroit is trying to attract new residents, it is experiencing net population loss. What would the tipping point be to decide to throw in the towel? How can a city make such a choice? When the village consists of 24 residents, it is less difficult to reach a consensus. But in a city of several thousand people — or even tens of thousands of people — the question is exponentially harder.

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