Given Their Druthers, Where Would People Live?

In sizable stretches of the U.S., small towns have been emptying out for years. Still, this doesn’t stop people from imagining small-town life as a haven from the hurly-burly that prevails elsewhere. In a survey conducted for Adweek by Alden & Associates Marketing Research of Hermosa Beach, Calif., respondents were asked where they’d prefer to live if they had their choice: a city, a suburb, a small town or the middle of nowhere. A plurality of respondents (38.7 percent) picked the small town. That’s a small increase from the 34.9 percent making this choice in a June 2000 poll. Have terrorist attacks on a pair of big cities made small towns look even more inviting? Perhaps, but the number of respondents saying they’d choose to live in a city was down just slightly (from 23.6 percent in 2000 to 21.2 percent now). Nor has all the talk of suburban sprawl put much of a dent in the appeal of the burbs, which pulled in 27.4 percent of the vote (versus 29.5 percent in 2000). As for the middle of nowhere, recent events haven’t done much to increase its constituency, which rose less than a single percentage point (from 12 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent now). What is it about small towns that makes them so appealing? “Sense of community/neighborliness” and “friendlier, more-caring people” were both cited by more than half the small-town adherents. It’s noteworthy that fewer than one in five mentioned “safer/less crime, violence” as the key factor. For people who chose the suburbs, the chief appeal was “city amenities, but without the city negatives.” Respondents who favored city life were most likely to cite “ease of access to everything/lots of activities.” Those who’d like to live in the middle of nowhere spoke mainly of their “desire for solitude.” (Lucky for them, then, that few share their preference.) Young adults were more likely than their elders to favor the city, and singles were more than twice as likely as marrieds to pick city life.