Works in Progress - Winter 2016

Back to the Country

Keeping the pastoral dream alive

By Charlotte Salley | December 7, 2015


The pastoral landscape has long enthralled harried urbanites: in a simpler life in the country, one would find flocks of sheep, vintage red pickup trucks, and roaring fires in old stone hearths. As Shakespeare once wrote, “And this our life exempt from public haunt / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones and good in every thing.”

Today, a report by the U.S. Census Bureau—not exactly the literary voice of the age—reports that the pastoral dream remains compelling: small-town America is thriving, not shrinking. Between 2010 and 2014, the population of incorporated places with fewer than 10,000 people increased by one percent nationwide. The addition of 300,000 people to small-town populations, largely in the Midwest and the South, has also resulted in a corresponding one percent growth in their housing stock.

For example, the population of Essex Junction, Vermont, grew 6.6 percent in the past four years, while that of the small city of Burlington decreased by half a percentage point. Between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of nonfamily households in Essex Junction increased by three percent, and the number of residents with a graduate or professional degree increased by two percent. These new residents have clearly taken Shakespeare to heart.

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