Do higher gas prices push people from small towns?

The Kansas City Star published an article and video package over the weekend suggesting that because of high gas prices, the "country could see a migration that would greatly reduce the population of Small Town America." This may be news to those at the Star, but this exodus from many small towns and farming communities has continued unabated for decades, and gas costs are a minor factor in the equation.

What really matters is proximity to employment. Living in a small town is a conscious lifestyle choice, and while the dollar cost of a long commute is a factor, it's not as important as the time cost trade off. Lower density areas already offer shorter commute times than metro areas.

Take our extreme commuter example from the KC Star article. Even if he is paying another $200 a month in gas costs, he's likely saving over $500 a month by choosing to live in a small town. Besides, he's already chosen years ago to make the daily time investment in his commute.

On top of that, gas prices in the rural heartland are some of the cheapest in the nation. If fuel costs are the primary motivator, where is he going to go?

Increased fuel costs certainly will cause us to refine our lifestyles in favor of conservation. But, if you've already chosen to live in a certain type of place, you move in favor of a new type of lifestyle or to find work. In our nation's small towns far from job clusters, hanging out a shingle reading "We have $2 a gallon gas!" will have no effect.

Should Obama Trade Chicago for Phoenix?

Invoking Studs Terkel, Oprah Winfrey, and Barry Goldwater, Tristam Hunt of the Times Online suggests that Obama needs to trade in Chicago's "progressive European tradition" for the "Wild West, libertarian ethos" of Phoenix. What he's really suggesting is that Obama needs to nail down the sprawling periphery to win it:

For all his love of metropolitan, liberal Chicago, it is grumpy old John McCain's Phoenix that represents the psephological future. And sooner or later, Mr. Obama will have to join those tens of thousands of his Illinois compatriots swapping the icy winds of downtown Chicago for the sprawling embrace of metropolitan Phoenix

For McCain, Patrick Ottenhoff lists his top 5 places McCain should go, leading with the Ohio River Valley tour, to focus on the economically depressed areas where Obama fared poorly vs. Clinton.


Mapping Power Brokers at

When most of us think "social networking" the first thing that comes to mind are personal sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. Recognizing the power of personal connection, is a news site that works in a fantastic interactive social network map connecting muckety-mucks in each news story.

Now that Obama has won the Democratic nomination, Muckety is focusing on Chicago, starting with a piece detailing the city's 100 most networked people. Carol Eisenberg writes:

George W. Bush saw the world through the prism of the Texas oilmen whose livelihood and passions he shared.

When he became president, he chose Houston oil executives and Austin honchos for top posts in his administration - with huge implications for national policy. If Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is elected, he would in all likelihood draw heavily from his home base in Chicago - to very different effect.

Keep an eye on Muckety's ongoing Chicago coverage.

Welcome to

Welcome to, a site devoted to analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work. Practitioners at heart, we want to know not only what is happening, but why it is so and how we can inform better decisions.

New Geography opens with a discussion of Chicago, including a piece by prolific blogger and long-time Chicago observer Steve Bartin.

Urban scholar Fred Siegel writes:

In his eye opening piece on Chicago's troubles, Steve Bartin rightly points to Chicago’s head tax on employment as a job killer. The closest analog is another long declining city Philadelphia which is burdened by a wage tax that has pushed numerous businesses just across the city line. But while taxes are still rising in Chicago, Philly’s new reform Mayor Michael Nutter has moved to gradually reduce the wage tax.
The one serious omission in the piece is the impact of crime. Chicago, which has 54 shooting over two weekends in April and has begun talking about arming its police with assault weapons to combat it’s gangs, has a homicide rate 3 times higher than New York and nearly 70 percent higher than L.A.

We welcome your writing, your thoughts on the site, and you ideas for emerging themes in economic development, city demographics, and community leadership.