Torrington Connecticut recorded 35,202 residents during the 2000 Census. While no longer classified as rural, it is a very small city by all standards but one. Torrington has the astonishing distinction of having the largest Micropolitan area in the entire United States. It's the biggest little census statistical area in America that is neither substantially rural nor overwhelmingly urban: a micropolis.
A micropolitan city is defined by the US census as having an urban core with between 10,000 and 49,999 residents within a county that has no large cities. What makes Torrington's the #1 micropolitan area in the country is that its micropolitan statistical area (Litchfield County, CT) had over 180,000 residents in 2000. Nor had it merged with the Hartford metropolitan area just to the east. Perhaps part of the reason is that of the 26 towns in the county, 23 are classified as rural and only New Milford, Watertown and Torrington have populations over 12,000. Nationwide, micropolitan cores capture just 31.7% of statistical area residents, compared to 37.8% in metropolitan areas.
The US Census Bureau and Office of Management and Budget first recognized and started tracking data within micropolitan statistical areas just three years ago, and the concept itself is relatively new. A micropolitan area describes those parts of the country with growing populations but that are not within the sphere of a major metropolis. In the western US, these micropolitan areas are often small cities surrounded by rural land and far from larger urban areas. Here in New England, a micropolis is often on the leading edge of sprawl but the land beyond the small cities still retains much of its rural, small town character. There are only two in southern New England: both in Connecticut and both in the northern corners. For reasons not immediately clear to me, Berkshire County, MA is actually considered part of the Pittsfield Metropolitan area, even though the city of Pittsfield's population is about 45,000. Perhaps the influence of Springfield or Albany is stronger there than Hartford's is in Litchfield County.
The influence of the Megalopolis of New York cannot be discounted in the Torrington statistical area, either. Litchfield County, in which Torrington is the largest urban center, is part of a US census combined statistical area that includes New York, Newark and Bridgeport in the New York Metropolitan area.
According to Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute,
"By the 1920's, the US was for the first time majority Urban. At mid century (1950), more than half lives in metropolitan areas. As of the 1970 Census, America had become a suburban-dominated nation - with more than half of all metropolitan residents living outside central cities. Now a new milestone has been reached: as of 2000, rural areas cover less than half the Continental US."
So Torrington has reached a pinnacle, of a sort. The problem is, a large micropolis very easily becomes a tiny metropolis. Just ask Pittsfield. Micropolitan areas are unlikely to get bigger. Without sound planning and conservation measures to retain the qualities that make these places so special, a micropolitan area like the Litchfield Hills will become ever more urban and metropolitan, while formerly rural areas assume micropolitan characters.