An Iowa State University expert on rural issues says high gas prices could be the death of many small Iowa communities. I-S-U Rural Sociologist Paul Lasley says a number of Iowa’s rural towns hit their peak population right around a century ago. But a number of those towns have evolved, he says, “from farm-dependent communities into ‘bedroom communities’ with low-cost housing where people commute to distant cities for jobs.” The length of their drive was a trade-off for the cheap housing and low cost-of-living in a rural town, but now Lasley says it won’t be worth it to live miles from a city and commute. While some will still live in those towns and commute, Lasley says he’s worried about the small towns farther away from metro areas. With fuel costs much higher, “suddenly the cheap housing that made those bedroom communities so attractive is no longer so cheap.” Lasley says some people may be driving fifty miles into a city to work, but that’s not affordable with gas still slowly receding from its three-dollar-a-gallon record price. He adds rising heating-fuel costs will also conspire to make small-town living less attractive. There’s 3-dollar gasoline and the possibility it could move even farther, he says. “And it may be an older home that’s not well insulated,” he points out, which makes the advantage of living in a small town change a lot. In large part, it’ll depend on how long high energy prices persist — but Lasley says many people expect higher fuel prices to remain a permanent feature of our economy. The rural sociologist says high gas prices might not rein in the growth of suburbs and so-called urban sprawl around the edges of cities — but he expects to have an effect on commuters from beyond the suburbs. Many Iowans would still live in the countryside or a small town if they could, but Lasley says that won’t be possible with the newly increased cost of commuting to the jobs that are in Iowa’s cities.
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