Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Robert Wuthnow's "Small-Town America"

Robert Wuthnow grew up in a small town and currently teaches in the sociology department at Princeton University.  He is the author of many books about American religion and culture, including Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland .

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Small-Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future, and reported the following:
Two of the book’s themes conveniently appear on page 99, which comes in a chapter about small-town residents’ feelings toward their communities. These themes emerged from lengthy qualitative interviews with more than 700 residents living in scattered communities across the country.

Many of the towns were declining. In fact, 55 percent of all non-urban US towns of fewer than 25,000 residents were smaller in 2010 than they were in 1980. In several states three-quarters were smaller. Residents of these towns were keenly aware of the decline. People no longer congregated on Main Street on Saturday evenings. The school was shuttered. Children were bused to a larger town. The playground was silent. The hardware store was gone. The corner lot where it stood was empty. Residents figured the good times were past.

But small towns are surprisingly resilient. Although the smallest ones are losing population, towns of any size are not. Most towns with at least 5,000 residents have been holding their own or growing. Many are county seats, host small manufacturing plants, or are located near interstate highways. Many are within commuting distance of larger towns and cities. They are benefiting from tele-commerce. These are the towns that two-thirds of the 30 million Americans who live in small towns call home. They are hardly disappearing.

Those of us in cities and suburbs may think about small-town life and imagine it would be dreadful. Too stifling of opportunities. Too boring for words. But that view misses the rich variety of America’s small towns. Come closer and we hear people speaking eloquently about their towns and their families and their lives. Some are here to be near an aging relative. Some are down on their luck. Some are in towns suffering from drought, a recent flood, or a factory closing. Some are recent immigrants. Some are seeking a balanced life with time for friends and family or more space and a slower place of life. They have much to tell us about the meanings of community, if we are willing to listen.
Read more about Small-Town America at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Red State Religion.

Writers Read: Robert Wuthnow.

--Marshal Zeringue