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.