Re-Starting The Discussion

February 2006

It's been a couple years since I've written anything new in this series of "Saving Small Towns" essays. Partly it's been because I've been busy on other projects. Mostly it's been that I've become discouraged -- discouraged, and increasingly uncertain about the whole concept of preserving and protecting what we used to consider the characteristics and values of smaller towns and rural communities. Here's my problem:

It seems like smaller communities are becoming just like big communities, only smaller. To put it a little less obtusely: small towns are looking more and more like what we call "neighborhoods" in the Big City. Every neighborhood is a mini-reflection of its parent city; each has everything that the bigger community has, except maybe the main city administrative offices. Buy food; eat out; buy a car; repair a car; buy plumbing supplies; rent a plumber; get 200 TV channels; go to the doctor; go to school - all almost within walking distance. (Of course, we don't walk; we drive.) We hardly have to visit The City (or Downtown, as we call it) at all. It's better not to leave the neighborhood, anyway, because every neighborhood is the identical twin of all the others. You could get lost in the wrong one, and never find your way home, again. To me, more and more small towns and rural communities are looking like neighborhoods. All they lack is the Big City surrounding them -- and maybe the traffic jams, although that is changing, too.

Now, you may not think it's bad that our small places have become small big places -- and maybe it isn't, if that's what you're looking for. But when I see a town in the New Hampshire North County that looks just like a town in rural Ohio (except for the hills, or lack thereof) that looks just like a town in California's Central Valley (except the latter has fewer trees and no snow), it seems to me we need to consider again just what it is we're "saving." 

So, let's ask the question: when you think about "saving" your small community, what do you envision? Does it have to do with size? The looks of the town? Traditions? "Civic pride?" "Quality of life?" Friendliness? A "healthy local economy?" Congestion? Local services? What??

I'll continue to share my ideas, but I'd like to  hear what yours are.

Postscript - 2017

My challenge from almost twelve years ago didn't elicit much response. I suspect that with the whole country plunging into economic and social trouble at that time, most small town and rural folks were too busy surviving to worry too much about the bigger, long-term picture.

Frankly, I don't have much more to say on the subject. I fear that we have lost most options for preserving the small town environment that I treasure. Oh, there will always be small towns, but more and more of them will bear the mark of poverty and failure, places where people live because they can't do otherwise. Many of us will truly miss the healthy, prosperous, smaller places.

Prove me wrong, please. I really need cheering up!

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