Adjusting to Small Town Living
by Blanche Evans
Sometimes your chosen career path can take you away from the bright lights of the big city to the quiet, slow pace of a rural community.
If you want to be a ski instructor, for example, you will more likely settle in one of the small Rocky Mountain towns of Steamboat Springs, Durango or Beaver Creek than in the big city of Denver. You may be in the motion picture/television business where a job awaits you not in Hollywood, but in the burgeoning film capitols along the Carolina coasts in Wilmington, North Carolina (Dawson's Creek) or Beaufort, South Carolina (The Big Chill, Forest Gump, The Great Santini, Prince of Tides.) Perhaps you've taken a job in food technology for a prominent manufacturer, but you won't be living in Grand Rapids or Battle Creek - chances are you'll bed down in Hastings, Michigan.
What kind of housing will you find when you arrive? What will the lifestyle be like? And will you be able to adjust from the pace of the big city to the more relaxed, neighborly lifestyle of small town living?
As a renter, you will more likely find yourself living in a small apartment unit or a house than in a large apartment complex. Since apartments are created to meet the demands of a transient population, with turnover expected every six months to a year, a large apartment building would have to generate enough rentals to cover seasonal periods of low rentals, plus attract new renters on a revolving basis. A small town is not likely to have a large enough employer base to attract that number of renters, unless it is a military base or a tourist or coastal town. Instead you will more likely find house rentals, which can be found through local REALTORS®, or large homes which have been subdivided into duplexes, triplexes and quadriplexes. Bed and breakfast inns or boardinghouses will be more common for temporary living arrangements. Gone will be the anonymonity of big city apartment life.
Norman Crampton, author of The 100 Best Small Towns in America, Macmillan, and a veteran of the city-to-town downscale move, has some insights into some adjustments you will want to consider before making the move from a large city to a small town, the first of which is housing. In small towns, people are much more likely to own their own homes or to own rental properties, but the norm is likely to be single-family detached dwellings. While some small towns will mirror state averages in owner-occupied housing, some areas can be significantly higher. For example, in Monroe, Wisconsin 69.3% of homes are owner-occupied, while the state average is $66.7%, but in Mount Pleasant, Texas, owner-occupied housing is 72.3% while state homeownership is 60.9%. Plymouth, New Hampshire, with a large off-campus student population (Plymouth State College,) boasts approximately 45% multifamily housing.
So what is a small town, according to Crampton? A small town is between 5,000 and 15,000 people, with independent social and economic bases and stand-alone economies. For the criteria that he used to select the best towns for living, Crampton included the proportion of residents in the 25-34 age group, people he calls the "young volunteers" and "the new recruits for local leadership." Also included in his criteria are annual growth rate; per capita income; per capita bank deposits; crime rate; available physicians; public school expenditures per pupil; and percentage of population with a bachelor's degree or higher ( an indicator of possible employment opportunities.)
Small town living is not just in the logistics, it is also a mindset. Living in a small community knits people together, explaining why some behaviors may come unraveled in a more crowded, faceless environment. Take crime, for example. Everyone knows each other in a small town, so random violence by strangers is relatively rare. Some feel so safe and comfortable that they never lock their doors. Community involvement is another benefit, with volunteerism highly encouraged. Explains Crampton, "Small towns nurture the essential first part of civilization - civility...people don't honk their horns very much in small towns."
Will you be able to adjust to less noise, pollution, traffic, crime, loneliness and pressure? Surpisingly, Crampton notes that small town life is not for everyone. It is the small town's simplicity that may make the difference. Making friends takes time. Along with less noise and hub bub is less excitement, but if you want to concentrate on family values, enjoy the sense of community, enjoy a higher standard of living in terms of affordable housing and services, and slow down the pace of your life, you are a good candidate for small town living.
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