High gas prices and the projected rising cost of heating this winter could spell bad news for rural Iowa towns. Iowa State University professor Paul Lasley says Iowans who enjoy small town living and trade off a long commute to a job in a city will have to make some tough decisions. Lasley anticipates people looking for options, either finding jobs closer to home, or relocating so they can be closer to the job. While they may move from small towns to metro areas, he’s not so sure high energy costs will halt or reverse “urban sprawl” and flight to the suburbs. In many metropolitan areas, he points out, people have alternatives to driving their own car — bus systems and other mass transportation that’ll take them to adjacent suburbs, and he sees those growing in popularity as people figure out ways to cut their spending on energy. The head of the sociology department at Iowa State, Lasley says there may be mixed benefits, too, from gas prices that don’t subside to earlier levels. Some people may shop more locally for their goods and services, instead of going off to spend money in big cities, but Lasley also worries that every dollar that goes into the tank for more costly gas is “one less dollar that may get spent on Main Street.” He says to avoid a migration to the cities, some things would have to change. One thing would be decentralizing jobs, so people could work in small towns and not have to travel so far to metropolitan. There’s the idea of rural mass-transit systems, too. Right now he says the distribution of Iowa’s population still reflects “the cheap cost of travel, which is apparently about to end.” If some people can no longer live in rural or small town areas as a tradeoff between low cost-of-living and a long commute to work in the city, it’ll mean an even faster end to the small communities that have been dwindling for years.
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