Thursday, January 28, 2016

Longing for the Return of the Small Town

Has the Small Town Really Gone Away?

Look at any map, and you will see a countryside dotted with small towns.  Drive back roads instead of interstate highways and you will encounter small towns.  Stand in the middle of a group of people and chances are you are in the presence of at least one person who grew up in a small town.  So how can I say I want the small town to return, when it clearly hasn't gone anywhere?  Well, I think it has gone somewhere.  It's gone to the suburbs.

What do you notice when you drive through small towns?  You probably either see a bunch of abandoned businesses, or you see a tiny business district surrounded by suburban sprawl.  You may even see abandoned businesses and suburban sprawl in the same town.  I don't know what the situation is in other countries, but in America at least small towns are either dying or turning into suburbs.

My Small Town

This is a map of what my hometown looked like when I was a kid in the eighties.  So that you understand what you're seeing, here's what the letters mean:

R: Locally-owned restaurant
G: Mom and pop grocery store
L: Library
H: My house
P: Park

As you can see, my house was one block away from the park and two blocks from the library.  The restaurant and grocery store were a little farther away, but could still be reached on foot or on a bike.  Not shown on this map are the bank and post office, which were also in easy walking/biking distance from my house.  The town looked like this for most of my childhood.  Then it changed.

I think the library was the first thing to go.  There was demand for a bigger building, so instead of moving into another larger structure right there in town, or adding on to the one they were already in, they built a brand new library out on the highway.  It's still close to my house, but I don't ride my bike there.  I value my life too much to brave that road, even with a helmet.

Next, the town grew to such a size that the post office required a bigger building.  It didn't move out to the highway, but it did move far enough from my house that it's no longer easily accessible on foot.

After the post office left a couple of fast food restaurants opened up just outside of town.  They pulled in so much business that within a few years the little local place on Main Street closed down.  This happened after I was married and living in the house pictured above with my husband and kids.  We were very disappointed with the loss of that restaurant.

Finally, a big chain grocery store opened up on the highway.  Within a year the little mom and pop place was closed.

Gradually, my small town was turning into a suburb.  Big businesses replaced small and no one could walk anywhere.  Okay, you could still walk around town, but if wanted to actually go somewhere you had to get into your car and drive there.  Main Street was slowly dying.

A Return to Greatness?

I must not be the only one who was saddened by the change in my town, because in the past couple of years new businesses have been coming to Main Street.  We now have a pizza place, a restaurant, and a movie theater (in the same building that housed the town's movie theater back in the forties and fifties).  I still can't walk to the library or the grocery store, but I am holding out hope that this may be a reality in the not too distant future.

I hope that the changes I've seen in my town in recent years are only the beginning.  I hope that the same thing is happening in other towns across the country.  I know there is no such thing as a perfect place to live, but I look forward to seeing my corner of the globe become just a little more wonderful.

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