Happiness and urbanization

The Gallup organization recently released an interesting survey. When it asked people what kind of community they would live in if they could go anywhere they wished, the top response was a rural area.

According to the survey, only 15 percent of Americans live outside a city, suburb or town. But 27 percent of those surveyed wish they could live in the country. Another 12 percent would prefer to live in a small town.

In case anybody in a big city is reading this, here’s the reaction from a small-town newspaper: Go for it! Small towns like this one could make great use of ideas, energy and investment from larger-market expatriates.

The survey results indicate that one appealing thing to residents of larger areas is that there’s less of everything in smaller communities. Sometimes this is good, such as when you compare traffic or population per square mile.

But sometimes it’s not good. Small towns have fewer decent jobs, restaurants and entertainment. This, of course, explains the difference between big cities and small towns.

Here’s the real problem: In recent years, small towns and rural communities have been hit by an exodus of their best and brightest. Even retirees have moved away, often to be closer to their children or grandchildren.

Maybe it’s always been this way. If small towns could have kept all the smart people who grew up in them, they wouldn’t be so small. But with today’s economy dominated by large, out-of-town companies, it is more difficult for smaller communities to keep existing residents and attract a few new ones. And it’s harder to start almost any type of business that can compete in a small town.

The allure of larger cities has long had a unique pull on those with a small-town background. Big cities have brighter lights. They have more jobs that pay better, more residential options and more things to do. They are places where it’s hard to be bored.

It’s impossible to blame anyone from a small town who’s attracted to a larger city. So that’s why it’s fascinating to see any survey that says more people, obviously including some who live in big cities, say they’d rather be in the country.

Truth be told, it’s very likely that a lot of these people have an idyllic view of small-town life that may not match reality. Many small communities, and especially rural areas, require a drive of several miles, at a minimum, for specialized health care, to list just one example.

On the other hand, a story on The Washington Post website about the Gallup survey said this: “Happiness and well-being tend to be higher in rural areas than in urban ones. Urban areas also see higher rates of mental illness and poverty.”

Those are positives that small communities can sell — although Mississippi’s small towns can certainly compete with any location on poverty rates. The one thing small towns offer is the opportunity for good people to make a noticeable difference. Now it’s up to a few people in large cities to act on their wishful thinking.