Lexington Park Named Third Best American 'Dream Town'

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Aug. 7, 2008)—“People pine for small town America as though it’s gone, but it’s right here,” said Gerald Goodwin as he sat near the entrance of the Church of the Ascension on Great Mills Road in Lexington Park, a picturesque memory garden blooming behind him. Nearby, a thin line of cars whizzed by, traveling to or from any number of shops and centers along the stretch.

Gerald, a Lexington Park resident who recently moved from Leonardtown, has pointed out what some websites have concocted complex formulas to uncover.

With sprawling metropolises taking over larger and larger chunks of the United States, it may be hard to recognize where our small towns have gone. But Americans are certainly warmer to the idea of living in small towns than anywhere else in this country. Recent surveys reveal that less than 10 percent of people want to spend their retirement in urban centers, and more than 90 percent plan to move to rural towns or suburbs. Two thirds of people surveyed in 1998 by Professional Builder magazine said they would prefer to build homes far away from major cities, and a large majority of people surveyed by Adweek in 2002 said that small towns were the best places to live.

The ideal setting even has a name, according to Bizjournals.com. Those small towns that manage to stay far enough away from cities or major metropolitan areas to block insane traffic patterns, congestion, and crime or poverty problems that have blighted larger, more cosmopolitan areas for years, while still staying close enough to these areas to make commuting to work or commerce easy, are called “dream towns.”

A recent article on Bizjournals. com has designated Lexington Park as the third best American “dream town,” a small town or micropolitan area that manages to avoid the bustle and chaos of the more heavily populated metropolitan areas while holding on to a well educated, well paid population of close knit residents.

According to Bizjournals methodology, a study of 140 “micropolitan” areas divided into four clusters, including New England, Midwest, Montana, and Seaside, done using information from the U.S. Census Bureau, ranked towns by their size, population, percentage of educated adults, housing costs, traffic, and proximity to big-city attractions. Micropolitan areas, by definition, have between 10,000 and 50,000 residents including their surrounding countrysides.

Torrington, Connecticut topped this year’s list of the top ten small towns to live in, with nearly a third of residents holding college degrees, the second highest income level in the metropolitan area, and New York and Boston being close by.

Bozeman, Montana ranked second with nearly half of its adults holding bachelor’s degrees, the second lowest unemployment rate of any U.S. micropolis, and the second lowest poverty rate of any comparable area.

Third place went to Lexington Park, Maryland, boasting the highest median household income in micropolitan America ($71,158), an impressive housing market (the median house value is listed as $322,000), and a highly educated adult population that has nearly a fourth of adults over the age of 25 holding bachelor’s degrees.

What this means for St. Mary’s County residents, particularly for those in Lexington Park, is that they are fitting into the limelight of a recent national trend, which is moving people away from bigger cities and more to areas like Southern Maryland. Many cite quieter neighborhoods and closer-knit communities as major advantages to living in smaller towns.

Economic and Community Development Director Bob Schaller said that this recent attention for Lexington Park was remarkable. “It’s the only town east of the Mississippi, below New England, that was in that group,” he said, adding that revitalization efforts, including a streetscaping project expected to add medians and landscaping to the stretch of Great Mills Road from Shagri-La Drive to St. Mary’s Square, multiple building projects, and preservation of historic communities like Patuxent Park, could use the traction of extra media coverage for the benefit of the town and others like it. “I think if nothing else it’s caused a great deal of discussion… we need to do everything we can to really take advantage of it.”

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