Is it just me, or has city-living literally become synonymous with sophistication?  Terms like metropolitan, cosmopolitan and urbane imply a sense of style and cultured outlook that can only be obtained in cities.  It is no wonder that more than a few city dwellers often turn up their noses to small town living.

Across the Americas, or at least in my home country of Canada, rural advocates begrudgingly accept the rural exodus, the phenomenon that has all their best and brightest bee-lining for metropolitan regions to escape the confines of their small towns.  At a conference in Twillingate, NL a few years ago I watched an elder municipal councillor tear up as a high school student asserted “I have to leave.  There is nothing for me here.”

So the fortunate graduates leave their hometowns and head for bigger things and bigger places, taking with them all their talent, prospects and bright futures.  As a result, the small town perpetuates antiquated and dull lifestyles destined for stagnation.  End of story?  I refuse to submit…

In Who’s Your City, Richard Florida argues that where you choose to live could be the single most important decision you ever make.  His enthusiastic endorsement for major urban areas is clear: this is where you can make six figures, where it is near impossible to exhaust the dating pool and where you can take in highbrow activities like the opera, ballet or new exhibits.  But (not just in Florida’s work, but other urban advocates like Ann Golden, Glen Murray and many others) there is less emphasis on a different kind of value set in the “quality of place” equation.  There are those who dream of a different place: a place where you can live on the water without spending millions; a place where you can run those horses you’ve been dreaming about; a place where you can grow more than those tomatoes on your balcony; a place where you have a direct link to civic leaders who have no choice but to listen to your opinions.

The values associated with small towns are more likely to resonate with those who are setting out in a young family.  So maybe in a few years that teenager from Newfoundland will be ready to raise a family and grow nostalgic for her childhood in Twillingate.  Maybe she will return to her small town educated, fulfilled with her early adulthood metropolitan experiences, and empowered with ideas for the future of her small town.  I see this kind of promise in research hubs like the Canadian Rural Research Foundation, a network filled with talented grad students raised on 4H, fresh lobster or county fairs.  These twenty-somethings see value in their small town heritage and have converged to seek solutions to make these places economically and socially sustainable.

While the place where I live isn’t rural by most definitions, it has many of the attributes of small town living.  We define “stuck in traffic” as stopped by more than two traffic lights on our way home from work.  We can enjoy agricultural land by walking ten minutes down our street.  Our home is affordable and we are a short walk to the shore.  In essence, we have given up our high earning potential, pool of hot dates and trips to the opera for something more sacred… authenticity, quality of life and a permanent escape from the rat race.

Is the small town sexy?  Maybe not.  But what it lacks in promiscuity is makes up for in charm.