Communtiy Defined

What is Small Local Community?

How Many Are There?

Where Are They?

What Kinds Are There?

Why Are They Important?

Why Are They More Significant Today?

Community Defined

Community is a word always used in two different contexts. First, it is the name of a particular kind of local population group. Our description of that local group is “ ‘a few hundred or a few thousand’ people living within an area of ‘a few square miles’ ”. The second, and more important context, defines the “qualities” of society. These qualities include social traits such as mutual trust, mutual confidence and mutual obligation along with loyalty to general principles. It is the “qualities” of people raised in the tradition of the small local community that is the important factor in the definition.

A century ago almost every community in America was a small local community. Today approximately 80% of the population lives in urban areas. About 20% (approximately 55 million people) live in small towns or communities. 2,000 counties in the country have been identified as “rural, ” which is one way to describe  small local communities. There are between 10,000 and 15,000 towns and villages that fit the pattern of small local communities. They are distributed around the country, fewer in the densely populated coastal states and more in the middle of the country as well as in the less densely populated coastal areas.

A century ago, almost all small communities were farming communities. At that time half the population was farmers. Today only 2-3% of the population are farmers. Still 20% of the people live in small towns. Obviously, the small community now is more varied than the farming communities of old. In addition to farming communities, one finds small communities that are the locations of colleges and universities. Many small communities do manufacturing. And, as service workers become an ever more increasing percentage of the work force, service communities have evolved. The center of the economic life of some communities is involved with some agency or arm of the federal or state government. Finally some communities have become the residencies of people in poverty, dependent on some form of welfare support. The demographic variety of small communities has increased rapidly since the days when “small” was associated with farming.

Many Americans think that what is small and local is unimportant - bigness is the measure of significance. Yet it is the details and particulars of ordinary living that determine the quality of our lives. The small community is important because it has in it the basic values, particularly in terms of our relationships with others, which are eternal and universal. The history of America throughout the 20th century was the movement of people from rural life to urban life. In that sense the populations of small communities were the emigrants to the larger community and, just as European emigrants set the pattern for various cities, so rural immigrants set the values for the cities. As more generations are born into the cities, problems arise - showing up as violence, competition and individualism. The small community has historically represented the best of the culture of character for the nation.

During the period of the depression, it was common for many people who were suffering economic difficulties and job loss to return to the homes of their parents. There was security and welcome there. It brought them in contact with values that had been lost in the famous period of the Roaring 20s. Today, there is a similar need for many people to “return home.” People need an option to the current trends of industrialization, urbanization, globalization and rugged individualism. Environmental degradation, financial scandals, and a threatening world situation require a different mode of life - one that optimizes both physical and human resources. This option is the Small Local Community,