Giving Compass' Take:

• Researchers Kimberly Zarecor and David Peters discuss how small towns in Iowa are "shrinking smart" to maintain quality of life as their populations decline. 

• How can philanthropy best support towns dealing with declining populations? Are there small towns in your region that need support? Can rural population decline be addressed at scale? 

• Learn about the role of commodity crops in driving population loss in Kansas.

Small towns across America have long wondered how to stop population loss, but lately, more have been turning to another way to cope with people leaving.

“Smart shrinkage” is used to maintain the quality of life after a city loses residents and businesses.

Researchers Kimberly Zarecor, professor of architecture at Iowa State University, and David Peters, associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University, measured quality of life in 99 communities across Iowa.

“Shrinking smart is where we look at communities that have had faster than average declines in population, but conversely, faster than average gains in quality of life,” Peters says.

Zarecor: “Some of the things that we have found are working in these communities are building social capital. And what we mean when we say social capital are the connections between people, the relationships in town, building up a leadership group that includes multi-generational leaders.

“We see a lot of private philanthropy in these communities. These are people who live there and who are giving money specifically to programs in the community. And what we found is this is creating a new kind of social network that makes people feel very connected to the place. They want to be there with their family, but also their friends and their neighbors. And they’re interested in the future of the town.

“One of our great predictors of smart shrinkage is when you ask people if they’re optimistic about the future in their town, they tell you that they are.”

Read the full interview with Kimberly Zarecor and David Peters about small towns shrinking smart at Nevada Public Radio.