Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Rural towns losing populations must learn to 'shrink smart'

Small towns across the U.S. are losing population to urban areas, and the trend is likely to continue. Kimberly Zarecor, associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University, offers an offbeat solution for shrinking towns: instead of spending money trying to lure new residents, focus on making life better for residents so they'll stay put, Frank Morris reports for NPR.

Zarecor first conceived of the "Shrink Smart Project" when she studied in a small city in the Czech Republic that had suffered with the collapse of the coal and steel industries. "Ostrava is a place that's shrinking, losing people, but it's still a place that people love to live in, are very loyal to," Zarecor told Morris. "And it's also a place that outsiders look at and think, I don't want to be there."

Eva Spackova, an architecture professor at the Technical University of Ostrava, commented on how her city successfully followed the "shrink smart" plan: the town clean up pollution and revitalized older neighborhoods, reinventing itself as a cultural hot-spot with popular arts events.

Zarecor and her Iowa State colleague Dave Peters are trying to bring that thinking to America, and are currently conducting surveys to figure out how some remote small towns can make residents' lives better as they lose population. They point to Sac City, Iowa, population 2,105, as an example of success in smart shrinking. The thriving town boasts a hospital, a library, a recreational center, two pools, good daycares, and an involved local government.

Sac City Community Foundation board member Steve Irwin said the town is doing well because of its highly involved citizens. "We always seem to have a champion for a project, somebody or some group that kind of takes the lead," Irwin told Morris.

1 comment:

Ben said...

It's interesting that while the population goes down in Sac City, the number of occupied housing units has gone UP. The population decline is more a function of 1) high school graduates leaving who are not homeowners and 2) smaller household size. We'll continue to see some decline as senior spouses pass away (e.g. population goes down but the housing units remain occupied). This infatuation with total population numbers needs to stop.

Sac City in 2010: Population: 2,220 Housing Units: 1,018
Sac City in 2016: Population: 2,185 Housing Units: 1,158

Once the senior cohort moves on there will be more room for newcomers, thus it is imperative we think about moving IN, moving OUT, and moving OVER with regards to community and economic development efforts. Today, about 30% of rural homeowners are over the age of 70!