Well I was born in a small town.
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
Oh, those small communities- John Mellencamp
Small town America is fading. That’s what they say on the national news and in studies and reports discussing population migration across the country. As technology and new opportunities lure folks to big cities and secondary cities, towns are shrinking across “the rural Midwest, the South, the Rust Belt, and Appalachia.
Call me a dreamer, but I believe in small-town America. I also think that we have spent a lot of time over the past two decades making small towns seem unsexy and unworthy. We tend to focus on what they lack, rather than what they offer.
The haves and have nots of a small town
No, small-town America doesn’t have the cool little street-side café’s you find in the big cities. They may not have four different yoga studios in a two-mile radius. But they do have small restaurants operated by the same families for years. They have the local farm stand and the butcher’s shop. While much has been made of the “farm-to-table” restaurant movement in urban areas, these local establishments have survived on the premise for decades (if not longer).
In a small town, you see your neighbor at the grocery store, church, pizza place, and all the other local places. You know that Suzy — who you watched grow up, play in the high school marching band, go to college and then come home — is getting married next weekend. You celebrate the veterans who served their country and came home… and you know them by name. You have town socials and church bake sales. The sense of community is different than that of a large city because the community (not technology or innovation) is the heartbeat of small-town America.
How REALTORS® can help rebuild small-town America
As REALTORS, it is up to us to help shift the way we look at small-town America. It’s easy to be drawn to the booming areas and the business opportunities they present. But it’s also short-sighted. Because one day, if the predictions continue to come true and populations on the coast continue to rise, we’ll all live in crowded areas with air quality issues and no place to spread out. We’ll be stacked upon one another in apartments or zero-lot-line homes. Our schools will be overflowing and unable to offer the quality education we desire for our kids.
Our role, as REALTORS, is to help build stronger communities. It’s time for us to identify the value of our small towns, of middle America, and outlying areas.
We have to look for opportunities to help our towns come alive with new activities and new development potential. Our first line of offense is to join our local city or county planning departments. Find out what is in store for your area and how can you help encourage new businesses. Sit in on the economic development meetings to discover what stores, businesses, and commerce they are actively recruiting.
Then, help increase the buzz about your town. Blog, share on social with a community hashtag, write articles, and talk about why you love to live and shop in your town. Above all, remember to focus on what you love about your town — not what it lacks.
My next move
I’m moving to a small-town, an area that is not economically depressed in the least. I want to help tell the story of small-town America and how we are bringing back those places that Norman Rockwell illustrated for so many years. He made small towns look perfect and feel perfect simply from an image.
I’m hopeful because I’m not alone. Several HGTV shows are centered around the revival of small towns now. I feel the wave of renewal sparking, and I want in on that. People are coming back to their hometowns or small towns outside of cities.
The younger generations are returning home after college and building homes. They are opening microbreweries. They're starting micro-green farms. They are rebuilding towns into what they need them to be — and I can’t wait to be a part of that forward momentum.
So, before you head to either coast for the high- paying job, think about what you want out of where you live. I’m not saying that living in the city isn’t worthwhile. I’m simply saying that life in a small-town is pretty great, too. In fact, you may just find it’s everything that you need.