RADCLIFFE, Iowa — A study on rural Iowa conducted by Iowa State University is shining a ray of hope on some small towns that have lost population over the past couple of decades.
The study identified 12 towns, which they call “Shrink-Smart.” These towns have lost population, yet still rank high in local quality of life.
“People tend to think of rural America as declining. They equate decreases in population with overall decline in quality of life,” said David Peters, an associate professor of sociology at ISU. “We wanted to ask if that’s really true, and we found that it doesn’t have to be.”
The study found there was a common link between the towns that rate quality of life high, while population has declined.
“What we found is these communities have a well-developed social structure. These committees are more engaged, they participate more in community improvement projects,” said Peters. “We hope we can identify strategies in the Shrink-Smart towns to manage this population loss to make the town a great place to live.”
The study named Allerton. Bancroft. Correctionville, Elk Horn, Elma, Everly, Grand Mound, Hamburg, Mediapolis, Pacific Junction, Radcliffe, and Sac City to the Shrink-Smart list.
In Radcliffe, City Clerk April Eller and her husband both moved away after high school to attend college.
“We had our first kid, we decided we didn’t want to raise our kids in the big town, so he went back to small-town Radcliffe,” said Eller. “A lot of people that we went to school with have moved back here to raise their kids.”
“These (Shrink-Smart) communities tend to create a culture of openness and support,” said Peters. “The communities are much more open to new ideas, open to new ways of doing things.”
In 2017, the community of Radcliffe worked to improve the town’s main street. They spent close to $800,000 for new paving and street lights. Taxes did not have to go up to cover the cost, as taxes from wind farms surrounding the town helped to fund the improvement.
“Absolutely, I think we’re always willing to improve our town,” said Eller. “Always looking for new ideas.”
Iowa State researchers sent out lengthly survey forms to towns with populations between 500 and 10,000, which saw population decline from 1994 to 2014. Twelve towns fit the declining population mark, but still showed quality of life increasing during that time.
Iowa State plans to use the data to help form some protocols for towns that are struggling in terms of quality of life and fewer residents to develop a positive culture, which could help improve the town.