American Dream? Top Towns to Live Like Smalltown, USA

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In Photos: America's Top 10 Dreamtowns
Most Americans of moving to some small town, leaving behind the
hassles of the city or the monotony of the suburbs. The catch is, we also want
to have jobs, restaurants, good schools and the benefits of living around
people. To find cities that strike a balance,
style='mso-spacerun:yes'> BizJournal used some quality of life metrics to
sort

In Photos: America's Top 10 Dreamtowns

Most Americans of moving to some small town, leaving behind the

hassles of the city or the monotony of the suburbs. The catch is, we also want

to have jobs, restaurants, good schools and the benefits of living around

people. To find cities that strike a balance,

style='mso-spacerun:yes'>BizJournal used some quality of life metrics to

sort out the least stressful small cities in America

and named 10 "Dreamtowns."

Torrington, in Connecticut’s

horsey northeast LitchfieldCounty,

tops the list. Bozeman, Montana

and Lexington Park, Maryland

follow. Most are cities you’ve never heard of—at least since you learned your

state capitols (Concord, Helena),

but they do sound dreamy. Three of the top 10 are in Montana.

To arrive at this list BizJournals looked at the Census

Bureau’s 140 “micropolitan” areas. These are towns of 10,000 to 50,000 people in

counties of less than 65,000, a balance between country and city mouse. The

magazine then applied some of the government’s

href="http://www.bizjournals.com/specials/pages/188.html">obscure quality of

life metrics—everything from mortgage affordability to a high percentage of

people who are young, self-employed, walk to work or live in big, new houses.

style='mso-spacerun:yes'>

BizJournals focused on these areas because survey after

survey shows most of us long to be country boys. BizJournals cites a retirement

magazine’s survey that showed 92% of us say we want to be put out to pasture in

pastureland, not cities and an Adweek survey showing 39 percent preferred the

country to 27% for the suburbs and 21% for the city.

But we are a living a long way from our dreams. According to

the Census Bureau 83% of us live in metro areas and only 17% of us have made it

out to live in the country. (The Census Bureau contends that the mircopolitan

and metropolitan labels don’t correspond to urban and rural under their

href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/bulletins/fy2008/b08-01.pdf">ever-changing

an array of definitions on metropolitan areas, micropolitan areas, New

England cities and towns, combined areas and metro divisions).

Biz Journals understood people’s need to be near the city,

so it looked for low commute times. BizJournals also concocted their own unique

measurement not from the census bureau: distance from the nearest big city as

the crow flies. And by big city, they really mean big at 2.5 million—not the Podunk

the Census Bureau might count. Montana

probably would have swept the competition if its Dreamtowns weren’t several

hundred miles from Denver.

And neither BizJournals nor most Americans want a town

that’s just stagnant. They rated high for growing, young population.

Ryan Bingham, who grew up in Torrington

and was elected the town’s mayor when he was only 22, says he isn’t unusual

among natives who come back home after college. That’s a big contrast from the

brain drain of other small towns.

“We see more of us young people coming back from college,”

Bingham says. “Most of the people I went to high school with are back in Torrington.”

Bingham says people are moving to Torrington

because it’s pleasant, mid-way between New York and Boston

and still has a decent amount of manufacturing jobs, like at nearby FuelCell

Energy.

Having the jobs and culture to keep young people down on the

farm (or exurb) is no small thing. The lack of economic opportunity for young

people is the biggest problem facing rural America,

according to a survey of legislators by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. They also

ranked the decline of the family farm and a sea of low wage jobs as top

problems.

The

href="http://www.ruralstrategies.org/issues/perspective4.html#foot14">Center

for Rural Policy says that most Americans still believe this great myth

that rural Americans are farmers, when only about 2% of Americans make their

living off the land anymore. Where are they working instead? According to the

href="http://www.prb.org/rfdcenter/50yearsofchange.htm">Population Reference

Bureau, the new rural jobs are in prisons and casinos. Others might get

service jobs handling tourists.

In Photos: America's Top 10 Dreamtowns

“A lot of people like the IDEA of living a rural lifestyle,

but when faced with the reality, not so much,” said Sheri Dixon in an email

interview. She’s one of the few who successfully made the move and now blogs

about her ongoing transition on homestead.org.

style='mso-spacerun:yes'>“And [there’s] that pesky needing to go to

work to pay for it all thing.”

There’s disagreement over whether America

is inexorably becoming urban. The Census Bureau shows that in 1790, only 5% of

Americans lived in cities and since then it’s been a steady rise.

Calvin Beale, who for decades has been studying and writing

about rural America

as a senior demographer for U.S. Department of Agriculture told the population

bureau in 2003 that there is a real rebound in some rural areas, but there is a

huge disparity between rich and poor counties. “Metro areas increasingly are

spinning off people who have had enough of large-scale urban life and who seek

a small-scale environment during their parental years or empty-nest years or in

retirement," Beale said.

The one last chance many people have to live out their dream

of country living may come in retirement—when having a good job isn’t

important, but having a low cost of living is. But even then, you’re going to

have to work at it. Whatever your dreams, David Savageau, author of Frommer's

Retirement Places Rated, says 98 percent of us just stay where we are.



See more places to live the American Dream.

In Photos: America's Top 10 Dreamtowns

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