Mention “California,” and many people picture Southern California beaches and Hollywood, or the Golden Gate Bridge and Silicon Valley. Few people think of our state’s small towns. That is unless they think about where their food comes from, or their redwood deck, or their oil. Many of California’s small towns developed around extraction economies – logging, mining, fishing, oil, agriculture. These industries are dying or changing.
At least 80% of California’s landmass is rural, and a century ago, nearly half of California’s population lived in rural areas. Today, that number is closer to 12%. That means small towns face an uncertain future. Gobbled up by urban and suburban sprawl, or left as ghost town memorials to old industries, small towns may seem destined only for California history. But in fact, California’s rural population is slowing growing. Many small towns are turning to different sources for survival: prisons, casinos, big box stores, marijuana farming, renewable energy, tourism, and clusters of small businesses.
The Future of Small Town California is a series of sound-rich, character-driven radio documentaries featuring the towns in the Central Valley, North Coast, Sierras and Southern California desert. The series explores how shifts in industry and population impact the identity, culture, even language of small towns. By reflecting small town diversity - racial, economic, linguistic, political - The Future of Small Town California will challenge some people's perceptions of rural populations, and help listeners consider how small towns reflect our history and our future.