A quick Google search turns up endless articles touting the appeal and increasing popularity of small towns and medium-sized cities in our country. What is it that makes small(er)-town life so great? According to Quint Studer – whose travels take him across the U.S. – there are many factors. But what really strikes him is a growing self-awareness around the richness and desirability of life in these smaller communities.
“More and more, I see this sense of pride emerge in leaders and citizens of small and midsized cities and towns,” says Studer, author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America. “They’re realizing, ‘Hey, our community has a lot to offer, whether you want to live here, work here, invest here, or start a business here.’”
Studer discovered that small-town living has some really attractive aspects that people are looking for today. Here are a few.
Small towns typically have quirky, well-developed, livable and walkable downtowns that exude a real sense of place. Quite often there are old buildings with lots of character to renovate or to turn into a craft brewery, a wine or olive oil shop, or apartments or office space.
Many great chefs and entrepreneurs are setting up shop in cool downtown areas in smaller towns, and finding they can prosper in these areas.
Fantastic downtown programming
They work hard on farmers markets, festivals, and holiday-themed events. They do a great job of attracting residents downtown and keeping them entertained.
Small businesses that create awesome experiences for customers
They have to in order to compete with online and big-box retailers. As a result, they earn fiercely loyal followers who come back again and again.
With more and more young people choosing to live and work in small towns – for a variety of reasons – a talent pool is created that’s attractive for entrepreneurs and business investors of all types.
A great balance between work and life
This is one big reason driving young people to choose small towns. Some of it has to do with lower cost of living, but also they want that slower pace and better balance so they can bike, surf, mountain climb, or participate in their free-time passion, whatever it might be.
A strong sense of community
We’re hearing more and more about the rise in social isolation and the very real issues it causes. Small-town living may be a good remedy. They know their neighbors and feel like they “belong” somewhere. People really long for this now, at a time when life seems so tech-driven, impersonal, and lonely.
Opportunity for meaningful civic engagement
Many people find that small times offer room for their voices to be heard and talents to shine.
An abundance of green spaces
Small towns often like to focus on their outdoor spaces, including forests, lakes, rivers, bike trails, and parks. As more people embrace a more active, health-conscious lifestyle, the proximity to nature becomes ever more important.
“It’s great to see communities of all sizes start to revitalize, reinvent themselves, and come back from the brink economically,” says Studer, “but when it’s a small town that turns itself around – when the young people couldn’t wait to leave home suddenly realize they want to return to their roots – that’s a really special feeling.”
Quint Studer is founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life, and moving Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. He is a businessman, a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to many. He currently serves as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida.