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- Demonstrate how small towns and villages, especially in rural areas, can maintain a high quality of life in spite of declining populations.
- Connect quality-of-place initiatives to successful economic development.
- Distinguish among local, regional, and national conditions that can lead to decline in order to devise solutions at the right scale.
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America's rural small towns are disappearing. An analysis by PEW Charitable Trusts shows that rural areas lost 226,000 inhabitants — a decline of about half a percent — between 2010 and 2020, while cities and suburbs grew by about 21 million inhabitants, or eight percent. Many rural locales can be reimagined with targeted broadband investments, new tourism opportunities, enhanced assets. and other strategies. Many elected officials hesitate to publicly acknowledge the economic and demographic realities of shrinking communities. Their constituents are nostalgic and want silver-bullet solutions. Planners can shift discussions to actions that acknowledge economic realities and still promote placemaking and quality of life.
Communities in Ohio, Indiana, and Alabama exemplify best practices, demonstrating how to improve residents' lives while fighting population decline. They show that it's not necessary to introduce large-scale development that might lead to gentrification. Aligning interests and partners to enhance recreational opportunities, entertainment, housing, and other amenities has elevated those communities and allowed them to buck downward trends experienced elsewhere. Equity in planning should consider all communities, including small and rural ones. Presenters advance equity by calling attention to such communities and their specific needs.