My decision to locate my case study towns in the West was a practical one, to reduce the travel time between locations, but also a decision made with the belief that the unique regional qualities of the West will be beneficial to an exploration of change in small towns. Changes in western small towns are amplified by the West’s unique geography and history, and yet many of the forces behind these trends are not decidedly different than those affecting other regions of the United States. I believe that in the end, these towns are not so distinct from towns in the Midwest, or the South or the East. What small towns across the United States share — a geography of relative isolation, a history of resource use and railroads — is far more important than their differences in their ability to describe today’s small town.
To select locations of small towns from which to select my case studies, I looked for diverse groupings of clusters as selected by the cluster analysis (geographic proximity of socio-economically diverse towns would allow me to study several towns from one research base). I recognized the need to select groupings of towns in geographically diverse areas, and therefore began looking for proximate towns within three distinct subregions of the American West: irrigated valleys, the Rocky Mountains, and the desert southwest. While my primary selection criteria were the clusters I identified with a demographic analysis, I also read broadly in media articles about changes in small towns. I was looking for towns that were representative of changes in all small towns, but was cognizant that these changes could be highlighted through locally-specific decisions or controversies. For towns that I did not know from media anecdotes, I examined local media and websites. How the town marketed itself was important. I was also interested in towns that were going through, or had recently completed, a comprehensive plan process. This process provides a basis for understanding how the town sees itself, as well as some of the more divisive issues within the community.
In the end, I selected seven small towns as case study sites, as illustrated by the map below.