I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a town a town. I’m willing to accept the romantic notion that a town is the connection of the souls who live there and call it home — no matter how few they may be — but I’m thinking more about what it is that makes a town viable. What are the critical factors that will allow some rural towns to survive and even thrive while others fade into memory?
One thing might be a post office.
According to a recent article in the Omaha World Herald, the U.S. Postal Service is going ahead with plans to close or modify services and/or hours at thousands of rural post offices, including hundreds in rural Nebraska and Iowa. For a lot of towns, the post office is both central to their identity and an important place to build community. But it’s not the only place.
The bare minimum number of amenities a town needs to be in a position to attract new residents includes a school, a restaurant, a gas station, some kind of health clinic and a grocery store. With rare exception, a town that can’t offer these five basic services — six, if you count the post office — is going to have a difficult time attracting or maintaining population in the long run. And as towns go up in size, the amenities bar gets higher: a bank, a dentist, a car repair shop, a park with a pool, the list goes on.
To save small towns, we have to take steps to save the businesses and institutions that hold them together. When people take care of a town’s basic amenities — the must-haves of a modern society — the town can take care of itself…