|Municipality||Village of Brooklyn|
|Population and Growth|
|Population (2014 if available, otherwise 2010, indicate)||1,401 (2010)|
|WI Workforce Development Region||10|
|Young Adult Gaining Measure||59% (WI median is -22%)|
|Young Adult Maintaining Measure||33% (WI Median is 24%)|
|Racial stats, 2010 Census||
98.9% (White, non-Hispanic and
5.9% (White, Hispanic)
2% African American
0.1% American Indian and Alaska Native
1.1% Two or More Races
|Mean Income||$76,471 (2015)|
|Median Income||$78,506 (2015)|
|Year of Latest Comprehensive Development Plan||2012|
|Year and Amount of Last Referendum Passed||(2016) $1.5 million|
|Notes||Brooklyn is served by the Oregon School District|
|Elementary||Brooklyn Elementary School||K-4||Public|
|Middle||Rome Corners Intermediate School||5-6||Public|
|Oregon Middle School||7-8||Public|
|High||Oregon High School||9-12||Public|
Conducting the Case Study in Brooklyn
Out of the twelve case study municipalities, we chose Brooklyn as our first. Collaboration characterized our approach to data collection. The following points briefly review how we developed our interview guide and interview contacts:
- Connect to University of Wisconsin-Extension:
We reached out to UW-Extension in Dane County, requesting recommendations for community leaders who might be interested in our project.
- Connect to Brooklyn Leaders to Create Core Group:
Mindy Habecker of UW-Extension recommended reaching out to business and school leaders, who agreed to form a core group.
- Develop Interview Guide and Contact List:
We met with the core group to address the following three points:
- How is this project relevant to Brooklyn, and your role in Brooklyn?
- What questions should we include in our interviews?
- Who should we invite to interviews?
- Conduct Interviews:
We administered the following interview guide to fifteen interviewees who we reached through core group members' recommendations.
- Present and Revise Results:
We analyzed and summarized the results of our interviews, and presented them to core group, and revised them based on their comments and other information.
Brooklyn Interview Guide
- How long have you lived here?
- Do members of your extended family live in this community or in a nearby community?
Tell me about people in your community.
- What would you say to a young adult (20-39) thinking of moving here?
- Why do people move here?
- Why do people stay here?
Tell me about young adults in your community.
- What strategies or factors that attract young adults to where you live are you aware of?
Tell me about the quality of life in your community.
- How would you want your town to grow? What isn't here that would keep you here?
- How would you want it to stay the same?
Tell me about your experience in the community
- What does community mean to you? What does community look like here?
Tell me about what other places can learn from where you live.
- What can other communities learn from your community? What stories does your town have to share?
Results for Brooklyn
We interviewed fifteen people in Brooklyn. The demographic data that we have about our interviewees are incomplete, as some information was collected through focus groups where demographic data was not collected.
- We did not collect age information in Brooklyn but, based on observation, a minority of participants were probably in their 20s, a majority were in their 30s, and a couple of people may have been in their 40s.
- Eight participants lived in Brooklyn. One of those had lived there a bit over 40 years—their whole life. Two others lived there between 11 and 21 years. The others were not specific. The remaining seven participants worked in Brooklyn, and some had quite close relationships with the community through the school and Brooklyn churches.
- Four people had extended family in Brooklyn, and two people had extended family nearby. Four people said their extended family lived outside the area. The others did not indicate whether they had extended family in the village or area.
Overall, our fifteen interviewees repeatedly cited a number of factors that were attracting young adults and keeping them in the community.
Strong, Tight-Knit School District
Participants consistently named the recently remodeled Brooklyn elementary school and school district as a factor in maintaining a growing young adult population. Nearly every participant, whether they had children in the school or not, mentioned the school as a huge attraction to young adults with children. Twelve participants mentioned the school in this way.
- "People are in Brooklyn for the school district."
- "The school is great, huge selling point for Brooklyn."
- "...everyone works as a group, especially the school. The minute I walked through the door, everyone was open arms, its always open discussion. My daughter was in kindergarten, the 3rd and 4th grade teachers knew who she was."
This positive perception of the school as an attractor for young adults, or part of the reason they stay, is tempered by an outlook that the school is the primary asset for the community. As one person noted:
- "I don't know if the village has a lot going on outside of the school, my perception is no."
Relative Proximity to Urban Centers
The location of Brooklyn is also a significant factor in attracting young adults and maintaining their residency. Situated less than a half hour from Madison, and roughly a half hour from Janesville, Brooklyn in close enough to bigger cities to hold down a professional job in the city without an overbearing commute. Additionally, proximity to an urban area allows for access to urban entertainment and shopping choices. But the distance from the cities allows people to feel like they are in an intimate, trusting community rather than the stereotypical suburb. Brooklyn is an ideal location for a home outside the hustle and bustle of the city, while still being close enough to it. Overall, eleven people noted Brooklyn's proximity to other cities or towns. Participants offered the following perspectives on the value of Brooklyn's location:
- "Another asset to Brooklyn [is] it's centrally located to Janesville, Monroe, Madison, equidistant from all directions."
- "It's a convenient location. You can easily commute from Madison to Janesville."
- "It's a nice, peaceful place, with a close commute."
Affordability: Housing and County Services
Other aspects of living in Brooklyn allow residents to enjoy this proximity/distance in relation to the city. Interview participants emphasized the importance of Brooklyn's relatively affordable housing compared to larger urban centers. Six participants mentioned housing affordability. Additionally, Brooklyn is relatively unique in that the village is split almost evenly across Dane and Green Counties, and borders Rock County, allowing people to also choose a residence taking into account which county property taxes to pay, and thus, which county services to receive.
- "...if you were selling Brooklyn, you've got lots of good points. One: The location of Brooklyn is ideal, you can commute to Madison in less than 30 minutes, you can commute to Janesville. Two: The housing affordability is a big deal for some families that are younger. Buying a house in Oregon vs. Brooklyn can save you thousands for the exact same house, [and] obviously the school."
- "The fact that you can buy a house in Brooklyn and afford the taxes while being close to Madison, you can come home to things quieter here."
- "The school system attracts younger families, but compared to Fitchburg and Oregon, it's the same school district. The difference is that it's more affordable in Brooklyn."
- "One family I know wanted Dane county for 4-H to show animals for the fair, it wasn't the sole reason for their choice, but a part of it. It meant that they had to pick a range for their housing and taxes."
Small Town Sense of Belonging
Brooklyn's distance from the larger urban centers in the area allows for a "small town feel close to the city," as one participant put it. Seven interview participants cited the small town feel as something that they would like to stay the same in Brooklyn. They mentioned that they felt connected to their neighbors, knowing them and watching out for one another. This sense of connectedness and small town feel has likely fostered the sense of safety and community that was widely reported among participants.
- "...you can always feel welcome. Neighbors provide resources, because everybody knows everybody. If you're not home, they'll watch out for you. It's a close knit community. It's a comfort to know, if you need them, your neighbors are there."
- "I would definitely like to keep the hometown feel. I like the atmosphere of the country feel, there's something special about it. Not too huge."
- "Nowhere else can I see myself raising kids"
Some interview participants also expressed concerns about the sustainability of that small town culture. With the rise in the number of commuters comes the threat of less connectedness among residents
- "As far as the village goes, it's a sleeping village..."
- "It's a quieter bedroom community."
- "B's population has grown pretty large, there still isn't a new connection of new families that the fire and EMS are all volunteer. You'll see signs that say volunteers needed. How do we get families to embrace living here? We are asking for some civic responsibility for giving you a safe place and are happy to live at."
Amenities in Brooklyn
With Brooklyn's proximity/distance in relation to the city, and especially its small size, comes a lack of amenities. So while the elementary school, less expensive housing, and sense of community were strong attracters for young adults, the lack of local amenities that accompanied those strengths was a topic of discussion among our interviewees.
Perhaps the biggest need cited among participants was for new businesses in Brooklyn. More specifically, participants mentioned a restaurant or café, and a grocery store or pharmacy as the most needed businesses. Many said they want something they can grab a quick lunch at--perhaps a drive-thru--coffee, and a place to bring the family out for dinner.
- "The community could use a health facility where people can exercise, be together outside, or cafes inside, a place for people to connect."
- "It'd be good to have a grocery store." Others: "There could be a grocery store."
- "Brooklyn could have a general restaurant. There should be something open in the morning – coffee, lunch." They later added, "A restaurant should be inexpensive, and a place to take the kids to."
And while a sense of community and "knowing your neighbors" were frequently mentioned as positive experiences of Brooklyn, participants mentioned a need for increased frequency in children's and general community events/gatherings. Some suggestions were: a park or playground for kids, a splash pad (or pool), a library, and expanded recreation committee events.
- "Some kind of draw like a big playground, or a great park with great equipment. A splash pad, something with water. There's not much for kids to do here in the summer."
- "I would say a library would be nice. I don't want to pay for my daughter to go to daycare for an hour or two a day. A library where they could go... I think it would be a draw for parents. The library could have after school activities."
Some of these desires may be coupled with the perceptions of some interviewees that the country roads required to get to even basic amenities had a dangerous number of accidents.More local amenities would make driving, especially night-time driving, less necessary.
But our interviewees also understood how difficult it is to keep a business going in Brooklyn due to its location off the beaten path, residents' cost-consciousness, and the ease with which commuters could meet their needs on their way to or from work.
- "You see a restaurant and think, ok three months... We had a little bakery. The prices started rising really fast. In a small community, you don't want to pay $2.75 for a scone. You would in Madison, but here more like a $1.50. Yup, at one time it was 75 cents for a cookie, then it became $2. At that point, I'll bake some."
- "People come here to sleep and leave to go to work. Once they go home, they don't want to come back out. They'll stop on their way home."
- "Brooklyn is located where you've got 104 and 92 [highways]. You are just far enough away from [highway] 14 where all the cars are... There isn't enough stop-in business."
How Brooklyn Compares to Other Municipalities: Evansville
Once we finished interviews and analysis, our team completed a case study of nearby Evansville, which is either about 3.5 times larger than Brooklyn, or about 3600 residents larger, depending on your perspective. The study revealed common themes of attraction and some points of contrast between Brooklyn and Evansville.
In both locations, participants highly ranked schools as a motivating factor for why they moved there, or what they found attractive about the community. Some Brooklyn interview participants saw families moving to Oregon once their kids graduated from the Brooklyn elementary school. This phenomena was not mentioned in Evansville, which offers public education through the end of high school.
Proximity to Urban Centers
Virtually all participants in both places referenced the proximity to both Madison and Janesville. Evansville participants noted that "commuters" who live in Evansville often have jobs in Madison that pay competitive salaries in terms of Madison jobs. These commuters then bring in competitive salaries to Brooklyn and Evansville, where the cost of living is cheaper than in Madison.
Similar to Brooklyn, over half of Evansville participants cited their proximity to cities as limiting access to entertainment. But others said their distance from the city catalyzed community and activities in Evansville, since people had to "make their own fun." At least one Evansville participant cheered the lack of bigger businesses. They'd rather commute to a Shopko then have its presence disrupt Evansville's "small town feel."
In both communities interviewees emphasized how housing affordability affected their location decisions. People who either could not or did not desire to stretch their finances to fit Madison's housing costs found Evansville and Brooklyn desirable locations with a relatively easy commute.
Sense of Belonging
Participants in both Brooklyn and Evansville cited the "small town feel" and neighborliness as positive qualities thought to attract and/or maintain a young adult population. Residents also indicated overall feelings of safety in both locations.
Evansville participants described their community as "purposeful" – indicating not just familiarity, but a common sense of direction. Participants noted how groups of people pop up to fix something that is wrong, like the dredging and recontouring of their Lake Leota, which they saw as a success. Many Evansville participants marked the schools as an opportunity for involvement and belonging, like in Brooklyn.
New Residents and Old
Evansville highlighted the differences between their commuter population and long-time resident population a bit more starkly than Brooklyn participants. Evansville participants drew a distinction between the "commuters" and the "old guard" from both sides of that divide. Some cited a "tipping point" a decade away – where Evansville will be home to more new families than the old guard. One Evansville participant that grew up in the area feared this eventuality, while another voiced that they were glad to see more people that they don't know in Evansville. Other participants did not notice a change in the feel or life of Evansville at all. Brooklyn, perhaps because of its smaller size, does not seem to have that "tipping point" on its near-term horizon.
Interestingly, Evansville participants also brought up a splash pad as something they would like to see in the growth of their community, much like residents in Brooklyn. There was also a general feeling that there was a need for growth in the form of restaurants (a place for families specifically cited in both municipalities) or other small businesses, but that residents in both locations wanted the growth to preserve the small-town feel. Evansville, being larger, already has some of the basics, and interviewee's desires were not as far ranging as for the Brooklyn interviewees.
How Brooklyn Compared to Other Case Study Municipalities
When we compare Brooklyn to our other case studies we see a number of important similarities in what influences young adult's locational decisions. These similarities occur regardless of region of the state or size. Schools stand out as an important attracter. So does appropriately affordable housing. And that means that housing needs to be perceived as affordable by the young adults looking for housing in the area. Young adults are more willing to pay higher prices in some areas than others. In Brooklyn, for example, as a couple of interviewees mentioned, young adults just starting a family are attracted by the housing costs that are lower than they are in Oregon. But as the children get older, and the parents' income increases, they may then move to Oregon to be closer to the middle school and high school.
One potentially unique housing characteristic of Brooklyn that differed from nearly all of our case studies was that one person in Brooklyn thought there should be larger lots for housing. In nearly all of our other case study communities, one of the housing characteristics seen as attracting young adults were in fact large lots.
Proximity to cities was an important variable for every community we studied. Many young adults in all of these places wanted both the bright lights and excitement of the city, and the quiet felt safety of country life. Brooklyn fits right in with that dual lifestyle.
In contrast to most of our other case study communities, no one mentioned outdoor amenities being available in Brooklyn and only one person mentioned desiring such amenities. That is quite unusual as such activities seemed very important for young adults in other places.
Some of the results from our study may not be surprising to you. Many of the themes brought up by participants are indicative of a healthy, thriving community. While you may not be surprised to hear that a strong school system and proximity to another urban area for shopping and/or jobs are important to community members, it is important to remember that there are many communities that are struggling to retain their young adults due to a lack of these community amenities and attributes. We hope that the results of this case study affirm the good work being done in your own community while aiding others who will greatly value the observations and results gathered in your community.
Our research findings also hold some implications for Brooklyn.
Why Young Adults Go to Brooklyn
Brooklyn may have the clearest combination of factors influencing young adults' location decisions as expressed by one interview participant and confirmed by others: "I think people are moving here because of taxes and housing prices. They stay because they have kids and the school." What is important about this is that Brooklyn didn't set out to attract young adults. It happened because of a combination of characteristics in Brooklyn that happened in an unplanned way. Now that we are getting a much better sense of what attracts young adults to a place and keeps them there, Brooklyn and other communities can more consciously make decisions about attracting and keeping young adults.
A Waypoint Village?
There are two aspects of Brooklyn, however, that the community should consider further. First, three of our interviewees noted that Brooklyn may be a temporary stop for young adults.
- "Families love the education program, but after the kids get older, I do see the chance where families are ready to make that second move, they move to Oregon, their financials maybe have changed, they're not driving kids around to activities..."
There may not be anything wrong with this, and there may not be anything the community can or should do about it. But, to the extent it is a reality, Brooklyn can both welcome those new young families and can consider saying goodbye with the same welcoming style. A couple of our interviewees told stories of people returning to the community at some point because of the happy childhood memories they accumulated in Brooklyn.
A second aspect of Brooklyn, which the community may also not be able to do anything about ,is the desire for some basic amenities in the community. Brooklyn, because it is off the beaten path, will have to work harder to promote local businesses not just locally, but regionally, if they want those businesses to succeed. People in small towns will drive places, and there are plenty of small towns in the area whose residents may drive to Brooklyn for something that is really special and that they know about.
We also remain intrigued that outdoor activities really didn't come up in our interviews. Parks, trails, sports leagues, and such things may be a relatively cost-effective way to further enhance Brooklyn's attractiveness to young adults. They may also be a way to engage new commuter residents. But the community should have a discussion to make sure such outdoor amenities will be as desirable to young adults in Brooklyn as they are in other places.