Why Do Some Towns Thrive? and Other Questions

[imgbelt img=kay-theater-528.jpg]Rural sociologists got together recently to talk about ethanol, migration, Obama — and what it takes to be a thriving small town.


listen to talks about everything from how  broadband can benefit small communities to how breastfeeding practices change from region to region. 

Some of the most interesting discussions were about the role of ethanol in the economies of Midwestern towns — and the increasing corn monoculture in parts of the Great Plains. There was also a lively debate about how the Obama Administration was approaching rural issues — the jury has yet to return a verdict on this one — and how the New York Times continues to show an anti-rural bias in some of its reports and editorials. There was also a great deal of talk about why some rural towns thrive. It turns out that thriving towns make their own fun and they encourage newcomers to join in. It’s not a question of money. Thriving towns have thriving cultures.

Here is a sampling of what I heard:

• A survey of rural Pennsylvania kids who had graduated from a rural high school found that more than two-thirds said their “ideal” place to live was a town of about 12,000 people. It appears that many rural youth do want to live in small communities.

• Terry Besser at Iowa State University, who has been studying the characteristics of thriving small towns, asked people to assess their communities.

She found that more jobs and higher incomes “do not translate into higher quality of life.”

Areas where residents believe their community is thriving have more participation in local groups. In these places, there’s a sense there that people would get behind projects and get them done.

Thriving places were more remote. They weren’t exurbs, close to metro areas. As a result, the places where people were happier had lower average incomes. They weren’t the smallest towns. In very small towns, people burned out working on their communities. Communities of at least 5,000 residents “have an advantage over those 1,500 and below,” Besser said.