We’ve all seen it.
We’ve driven past them, commented on them, and dissected the reasons behind them.
Drive down most any downtown area today, and you will see dilapidation. Abandoned buildings, the skeletons of better days gone by, litter small, rural communities.
We all disagree exactly how to fix them, but we can all agree on one truth:
They must be fixed, somehow. Period.
These buildings are a cruel metaphor for the reality of small town America: we must change something or let the whole town become like those buildings.
And, much like the time limit on an old, abandoned building, this reality rings true- we don’t have much time.
Facing small towns is an extensive list of problems, but I think that I’ve found the solution.
There is one generation who has the potential to fix and rehabilitate small town America, yet, at the same time, this generation also holds the power to break these very communities.
It’s the millennials.
Now, it’s quite easy to read this and swap into “those darn kids” mode, and with good reason. As a part of this generation, I will speak for millennials as a whole: we give other generations a lot of fodder for their disdain.
I get it: yes, my room has a lot of participation trophies. Now, I didn’t ask for them, but I am a part of a controversial generation known for some rather uncomplimentary traits: whiny, too extreme, too sensitive, unstable as an employee.
There are many reasons to have a less-than-favorable opinion about my generation.
This generation is marked by one last quality that could prove damning for small communities.
The millennial generation is flocking from small towns in favor of larger, urban areas. And this, folks, is an issue. Why?
Well, namely for one reason: this is the largest generation living generation, and their flight from already-struggling small towns could potentially break these communities altogether.
It’s not lost on me that this is a depressing concept. However, I think that the power to fix our small towns lies in the personality qualities of the millennial generation.
I think the unique traits of this generation potentially hold the key to reviving small towns, and below, I have listed the main traits that make small town living the best fit for millennials.
This generation is characterized by putting the focus on the family. Millennials are stepping away from the wild, fast life that has characterized previous generations, and they value family more (hence the dreaded “living in mom’s basement” rumor). Small towns are known as places that are good for families.
Millennials value community and collaboration– something small towns definitely have to offer. Life in a small town does not happen without a community working together for a common goal. In the same way that millennials desire community, so small communities desire to welcome new individuals into the fold.
The millennial generation is known as being more accepting and wanting to make a difference. Small towns are the perfect environments to this end. These areas are places where, often, poverty is an issue. Differences can be made (and actually felt!) in a small town, and we need to advertise as such.
Millennials are also regarded as narcissistic. This adjective is not exactly regarded as a positive, yet this is a trait can be advantageous for small towns. Big time recognition is in small towns- after all, we are known for celebrating small events in a big way. Small town athletes are often heralded as heroes because, simply put, there’s not that many of us. You almost have to try to not be recognized.
Now, however, we move on to the main issue that is pushing millennials away from small towns; this issue is known as “lack.”
Opportunity and options are two important facets of life from a millennial perspective. Millennials like their options, and I truly believe that the lack thereof in small towns is the biggest hindrance to growth for this demographic.
Now, if you’re not a millennial, try to remember yourself when you were this age. More than likely, the small town you knew was a lot different than it is now.
- Wifi was a nonissue
- People would generally shop local
- There were more options open
- There were social things to do on a weekend
- The entertainment was here, in town, not in a larger town 30-45 minutes away.
Whenever millennials look at small towns, they see a lack. Lack of wifi, lack of eating, lack of entertainment, lack of peers, lack of grocery store choices, lack of healthy options.
Lack. Lack. Lack.
This is where you hit a brick wall for this age group.
This is what can break a community.
You need people who are passionate about living and working in a small community, but how do you get them there so they can make, rather than break, a community?
I think that there are multiple answers, but to do these solutions justice, it’s going to take a two-part article.
This catch-22 will be the topic for part 2 of this post, so stay posted!