Kimberly Zarecor and David Peters will present at the Iowa Leagues of Cities Annual Meeting in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Sept. 13. Our workshop will share our preliminary results and research design with League members.
What do you think about the quality of life in your small Iowa community? Your town may be different now than it was a few decades ago with fewer people and fewer job opportunities. How have residents and the local government responded to these changes? Some small communities are finding ways to protect quality of life as their population shrinks. Getting to know these ‘shrink-smart’ towns a little better can provide new ideas for all communities facing similar challenges.
In effort to learn more about quality of life in small and shrinking rural communities, faculty at Iowa State University are currently working on a year-long research project with funding from the National Science Foundation. The team of faculty from Architecture, Community & Regional Planning, Computer Science, and Rural Sociology have spent the last six months analyzing data about perceptions of quality of life and visiting with residents in seven communities to learn firsthand from them about their lives in a shrinking community. How might smart shrinkage be defined and what data can offer clues to towns that are doing better than expected in terms of quality of life? One aspect that is especially relevant to the research is quality of services. Are there good schools and daycare options for children? Do seniors have opportunities to socialize and access services in town? How far do people have to travel to shop or find high-quality medical care? Local government also matters and good governance practices improve perceptions of quality of life. The research considers how town leaders use residents’ opinions when making important decisions. Do people feel that they are welcome to participate in community meetings and make their voices heard? Are people optimistic about the future and are there plans for new community programs and facilities? The research builds on the results of the Iowa Small Town Poll, a quality-of-life survey that Iowa State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been running in 99 Iowa towns since 1994. The project also integrates techniques from data science for analysis of public data and also social media and online sources that offer completely new ways to think about small-town life. Early results suggest that integration into regional networks of services and strong community relationships are critical to making small towns desirable places to live.