Discussions of livability typically focus exclusively on urban living, yet 20% of the country lives in rural areas or small towns. As speaker Rachel Goslins pointed out at Partners’ "Building Livable Communities”
forum, “It’s not necessarily true that a livable community is a city.” Goslins, the executive director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, asked us all to consider what livability means for small towns and what urbanites can learn from them.
Her observation is a fitting one. Small towns fare well in many aspects of livability, boasting low crime rates, access to natural amenities, affordable housing and land, ease of mobility (for most), and engaged citizens with a strong sense of community. Yet there are many barriers to livability in small towns, as they strive to deal with changing demographics, the decline of traditional industries, environmental damage, and deteriorating infrastructure. These woes may sound familiar to residents of any size city, but the effect and the solutions for small towns are often different. Long distances between amenities, limited resources, and negative stereotypes about rural America can make these challenges more difficult to surmount.