Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Of Small Towns And Small Cities

 The trip The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I took over the Thanksgiving holiday was somewhat atypical to the usual vacations we have often taken as 1)  It involved no children; and 2) It largely involved small towns and cities and scenery.

To be fair, I far more identify with small towns and small cities than I ever have with larger urban centers as I grew up in a small town.  At some point of course as one become older it becomes a choice of course, especially as many people either by design or chance spend some time in a large urban center.  But urban centers - at least to me - remain largely sterile of desirability.  Certainly you have every convenience under the modern sun, but you also have everything that comes with packing people in densely (or as our friend Hobo says, "Human Feedlots").  So even when I am in our current large urban center, I still prefer the sights and appearances of small towns and cities.

During out trip, the largest urban center we got to was around 50,000.  Most were at least have that in population if not less, some 6 or 8 traffic lights length of street to drive on, others just a slowing of speed before it picked back up and the town was gone in a blur.

There is a certain desolation, an inconsolable sadness to me as we drove through such places.  On the one hand, these are the small towns I remember of my youth, where each place was in some extent a self contained unit, back before the days of malls and mail order and home delivery of everything.  But most of these towns have not made the conversion that some towns have made to essentially being destinations for dwellers of the large urban centers with their cute knick-knacks and classy restaurants (and thus, now dependent on those same large urban centers). As one drives through them, faded signs suggest what used to be there even as the covered windows and doors indicate they are that no longer.  In some cases the town has a theme, which is then propagated throughout the town, sometimes in awkward ways.  In other cases the original stores are gone but other stores have migrated into their place.

Development, where it happens, almost only and ever takes place on the outskirts of town (which, of course, multiplies the economic problem as people no longer go "into town", as all the new and cool things are outside it).  And so the buildings with their call of yesteryear and odd curious shops and eateries which might be fascinating (but one never knows) sit staring outward onto far different streets than when they were built.

It may sound like an overly nostalgic view - and I freely admit that in some ways it is.  I grew up in a small town; I remember the sense of feeling trapped by the limitations of what was there and the thrill that going to a larger city provided at the time.  And yet, now that I have spent more time in a large urban centers than small town and cities, I wonder what, if anything, we have truly gained.

An interesting sub-note to me is in the great social discussion of - call it what you will, "tiny dwellings" or "back to things we used to know" or "being universally unconscious" - the idea of re-energizing and re-invigorating small towns is almost never discussed.  It is not as if there is not real opportunity in some of these places or that in some ways things are a less expense (housing, for example, is a tremendous difference).  It is as if there remains this sort of urban arrogance, that (once again) the only acceptable solution is the one that is "common knowledge" - and that common knowledge only extends to the large urban area limits.

In my happiest of worlds, I would see the great urban areas depopulated and small towns much more prevalent and thriving.  But, as is commonly acknowledged, I tend to see the world a bit in reverse anyway.


  1. Anonymous3:06 AM

    Your post reminds me of my upbringing. In the early 60's when I was born, my town was approximately 25,000 in population. Our area (Rio Grande Valley - Texas) was winter garden ag geared, with many fields of vegetables and citrus groves. Population swelled in winter, a lot of 'Winter Texans' make it that way even now. Very calm for the most part, the rurals had palm tree lined dirt roads leading out to the fields and groves.

    My town is approximately 150,000 people now. Many different places to eat and shop, geared for snowbird traffic and northern Mexico shoppers. I miss my old town too I guess, sure isn't where I grew up. I don't require 4 Target stores, nor 5 Wal-Marts within 15 miles of my home. One or two will do, sell the same stuff for the same price as it is.

    1. Different location, similar experience. In my case it was still fruit orchards and small ranches which have given way to housing and catering to the tourist population headed up and down the major Interstate at all times of the year (which has probably helped to keep the town afloat). Population has doubled (more or less) from when I grew up from approximately 6,000 to 13,000 - but double that for everyone that lives right outside the city limits. Still, pretty small.

      I, also, do not understand the need for replicas of the same stores selling the same merchandise.

  2. There are small towns and then there is where I grew up. In the 500 square mile county I grew up in there has never been a stoplight or even a fast food restaurant. Currently to my knowledge, there is only one small grocery store (30 miles away) that mostly carries "supplies" but there has been periods of time with none at all.

    I'm used to people thinking these towns in our county as dead because we don't actively seek others to stop. But in reality, they still thrive in ways that matter to us that live here. We still have frequent community get togethers whether it be a town festival, chili supper to raise money for the volunteer fire department or sometimes just to have an ice cream social while we watch a movie projected on the side of the meat locker on main street since it is one of the few buildings still standing, painted white and doesn't have doors or windows in the vicinity of the image. They are largely unattended by those from other areas but high percentages, that would blow the mind of any urban center in comparison, of the town participate in them. For a chili supper fundraiser, we may get 200 bowls of chili served in a town of 300 residents.

    I freely admit we don't have things that many people feel constitutes a living town like a business open on a daily basis on main street. The previously mentioned meat locker is one that comes the closest to that and we do have a gas station outside of town on the highway that is open six days a week anyway. But we make up for this by having a community where everyone is involved heavily. Have a building catch on fire and 50% of the town not only knows about it before the fire is put out but it there on scene serving sandwiches to the volunteer fire department and catching up on other things that have been occurring in the lives of other residents.

    These towns are very much alive, but mostly invisible to those from larger urban centers.

    1. Ed, even in just driving through these places, there is a lot more civic pride than I see in our current location. Signs for events as you have posted are not at all uncommon - and I suspect many of those people relocating out/back to such towns are the sorts of people that are looking for that in a way that the faceless community of large urban centers do not.

      Perhaps another way of considering it is that now, more than ever, people have choice about where they want to live and that the communities will, even more than now, come to reflect that.

      (The community where The Ranch is located is precisely the same as what you are talking about as well).

    2. Despite my fondness for "small town" living, I also know that doing so is unsustainable. Those that remain in my home town are mostly the old and retired. Those of working age moved closer to the larger towns with factories and the kids went with them. There was only but a handful of classes that graduated after I did and then the school was closed and eventually demolished. Eventually it will become a ghost town like many before it and will only be referred to in the history books. But until then, I enjoy the company of those that live there and remember more vibrant times.

    3. That is the great challenge that so many of the towns have now Ed. The only hopefully sign for me is that with a change in how we work - either by those factories closing or by more options to work from home - some of those communities may become viable again.

  3. Nylon123:13 AM

    Too many of the urbanites believe that all things begin and end in those areas. In my experience those with a university education believe that "unsophisticated" rednecks live out in the "country". People living in smaller towns have to adapt to changing economic phases or the younger generations move elsewhere. Don't worry TB, it seems that the Great Reset as pushed by the WEF will de-populate the urban centers everywhere.

    1. Nylon12 - An odd thing (to me odd, anyway) is that in my own age group, I actually find that there are at least some that want to move back to such places (at least in my hometown anyway). Part of it may be nostalgia, but part of it is perhaps that larger urban areas are not all they are advertised to be, especially when you are older. Rapidly increasing costs in a slowing income reality can make it difficult - or impossible - to keep up. Add to it all the minor (or major) inconveniences of a large urban area, and I suspect there will be more outflows (and that even before something like a major catastrophic economic event).

  4. Anonymous5:59 AM

    Toirdhealbheach Beucail,
    That handle continues to baffle me :- )
    Postings like this are what draws me back most dayz.
    I grew up in a small western Kansas town under the care of my loving parents. Dad was a telco installer there during the 50s and 60s and had probably been inside at least 100 of the 6 or 7 hundred houses which made up the community (ie. he knew just about everyone). It was a stable town with 3 groceries, several variety and drug stores, two lumberyards, and even the only hospital in the county (though not the county seat it was the largest town in the county with a population of 3,000 at its peak). A township lake of medium size was within a safe and easy bicycle ride for a pair or three of 10 year old buddies. Watching episodes of the Andy Griffith show is a taste of what those years were like to me.

    I could write more about where I live now (urban sprawl community in Colorado) and what remains of that little Kansas town but I’ve got to get ready for work. Again, this was a good nostalgic post to me and I’m always stopping by to see where your brain is currently.


    1. FnB - I think I have posted on this occasionally, but I literally have no idea where my mind will be on any given day. Very occasionally it is a theme week, but most of the time it is random, sparked by something that happened or even just a thought that pops into my mind as I sit down.

      I recognize the town you write about; my hometown was the same. My children know little of that setting as we have always lived in much more urban environments. Oddly enough, they seem happy when we do go back to where my parents lived. I think for a lot of people, there is something about a small town.

  5. I grew up inbetween several small farming communities. The big town was 150K. Abernathy is all but dead. Corporate farming has taken over the small family farms. And the kids weren't gonna stay close anyway. They wanted more than the small town could offer. It was drying up in the 80's.

    Don Williams' song Coyote Towns comes to mind everytime this subject is broached.

    Lots of nostalgia...

    1. STxAR - It becomes hard when the world very much tells a young person that one needs to desire more out of life than being satisfied with what they have. Add to that disinterested corporations that see land merely as an asset to be exploited, and here we are.

      I will definitely give the song a listen

  6. I'm late to comment on this, not so much because I'm behind in my blog reading (which is often the case), but because I've been thinking about it. It was the connectedness of today's reading list post that reminded me to comment.

    I sometimes mention agrarianism as a lifestyle, and it is interesting to me that the response is usually a variation of "yes but, not everybody wants to be a farmer." This post reminds me of what I am consistently unsuccessful at explaining, i.e. that agrarianism isn't farming, rather, it's a social and economic structure based on community and the land. The small town is the heart of such a structure because it's there that the community has the potential to to meet its needs. I would like to say that it has the potential to be self-reliant, but I get scolded for that term too, because it tends to be interpreted as isolationist. Instead, I think I'll say, an agrarian community is more resilient, and able to weather whatever ups and downs happen in life.

    Of course, this will never happen because human nature strives against it. But I sincerely think it's the way things were designed to be.

    1. Leigh, if I do not get as many comments as I get effort, I have no-one but myself to blame. No-one but a fool makes it a goal to write something every day and expect either 1) That it is good writing; or 2) That people have the patience to read it. I am grateful that I get as many as I do.

      They are connected (I had not thought of it until now, but you are right. I like the the concept of agrarianism as much as you do (I am trying to think where I first read of it as a philosophy - maybe Herrick Kimball) and I think - now - that this was what I was really trying for when I read Gene Logdon's book The Contrary Farmer in 2000. I distinctly remember the time: it was July of 2000 and we were on our way to a trip in Europe.

      My mind was blown. Here was a man writing of concepts of being attached to the land and in a social system of friends, family, and small town. He wrote eloquently and passionately (and occasionally, sarcastically and profanely). But it touched a cord in me that has never gone away.

      In point of your fact, small communities can be very much interdependent and resilient in ways that larger cities cannot. It does bring up something of a paradox for those that have issues with the idea, as resiliency and interdependency are things that are trumpeted these days as things to be desired. The difference, I think, is that it is not resiliency and interdependency on the larger governmental or social unit, but to the local area. This is what makes it undesirable as a concept, perhaps. While I see no problem with resilient, interdependent small communities - like existed much more, once upon a time - some do. The only interdependence and resilience that is to be sanctioned is that of the highest level order: nations, continents, urban metroplexes. We must serve the whole in some way, be dependent on it. To not be is to somehow be a potential rebel.

      As the meme goes, Gardening (even gardening) can be an act of rebellion.

      Thank you very much for the thought. It has made me think.


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