Big Cities and Small Towns


Ironhold
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For the record - 

As I've mentioned before, my dad was in the military. So for my first years of life I was on the move as he was assigned from duty station to duty station. While I did *technically* live in two major cities during this time, we actually lived in on-base housing. Being young, I rarely left the base itself aside from going to church; I did go with my parents to a few civilian shopping centers every now and then, but that was it. 

I finally came to settle in my current residence, a town near a military base in Texas, back in 1990 and have lived here since. This time, we were able to find off-base housing.

The town itself is about 32,000 people, so it's not "small" by any means. However, we're on the edge of what could easily be considered a rural area... and yet we're not that far from a number of major cities either. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copperas_Cove%2C_Texas

Every so often, I'll encounter an individual from a major city who doesn't think too highly of smaller locales. Usually, this is a person who has never been outside of their major city, and so they don't understand what life is like for everyone else. 

In some instances, it'd be amusing if it didn't indicate the person's ignorance of the outside world. For example, several months ago an individual in the US comic book scene made a post on social media talking about how he didn't think he could live in a smaller town (he's from New York City) because he couldn't give up his favorite bodega. When people tried to explain to him that most mid-sized cities have convenience stores on par with the average bodega, he refused to believe it. 

In other instances, however, it's as if these individuals assume anyone who doesn't live in a major city is fundamentally flawed or damaged. For example, every so often I'll encounter a "green" type who tries to argue that people don't need cars when you can just walk or take public transportation everywhere. When I try to explain that the further you get outside of the dense urban centers the more spread out things are and the less likely you are to find effective and efficient mass transit, they generally develop an attitude and go off about how "If you can't walk there then you don't need to go there" or otherwise complain about the situation they perceive happening.

Well, yesterday I was listening to a "Reddit Video" type of YouTube video, one in which people read stories they encounter on Reddit and other social media platforms.

One of the stories came from a young woman from Nebraska. She was attending a large and respectable college that had people from many different places in attendance. However, whenever it came out that she was from Nebraska, the students from larger cities would inevitably treat her as an object of curiosity. They'd express their sympathies and then barrage her with questions, all of which were based on stereotypes. One day she lost her temper at a classmate from Chicago after a particularly juvenile round of interrogation, and responded by pointing out that many people see Chicago as a cesspool of crime and violence. She meant it as a lesson in how stereotypes can go both ways, but the classmate was moved to extreme emotion by this response. 

This has me wondering. 

Just how great of a divide is there between big cities and small towns, at least here in the United States? 

Is this divide a part of the larger reason why society seems to have such a hard time getting along with itself these days? 

Now, there is a perception that the divide is pretty bad in the comic book industry (see above), to the point I once proposed the prospect of "working vacations" in which publishers send select individuals to different cities to absorb some local flavor. But the more I hear and the more I speak with people, the more it seems like there's just a growing gulf in general.

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22 minutes ago, Ironhold said:

Just how great of a divide is there between big cities and small towns, at least here in the United States? 

Is this divide a part of the larger reason why society seems to have such a hard time getting along with itself these days? 

I feel comfortable in both areas.  Lived in suburbs of large cities for 30 years, and then 10 miles from the nearest town for 20.  My ward is made up of city folks and rural folks.  I commute to a city, and my kids have been raised out in the middle of nowhere. 

The divide is real, and yes, people are different.  Big impacts in folks' politics.  Speaking broadly and generally, the more you rely on yourself (far from specialized services and a short walk to all your needs), the more conservative/right wing you may find yourself.  And the more you rely on stuff like public transportation/restrooms/parks/community centers and specialty care clinics, the more liberal/left wing you may find yourself.  County-by-county election maps tend to align to population density maps - higher densities vote democrat, lower densities vote republican.  (Generally -there are always exceptions.) 

Clueless jerkiness exists on the extremes.  I've found 99% of all of my interactions with folks on the subject to be reasonable and kind.  But maybe that's just the high-class sorts of folk I associate with, both rural and urban.  

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The scriptures almost uniformly portray large cities as cesspools of corruption. Yet the LDS belief in and desire for large families will inevitably encourage the growth of cities. It's worth noting that Zion is a city. So we have an interesting scriptural/doctrinal view of cities.

I vastly prefer more rural areas; my wife prefers outer urban areas. I was born in a small city (Richland, WA) and grew up for the most part in small towns. We did spend five of my formative years living in the Tacoma area. The contrast between urban schools filled mostly with city children and small-town schools filled with rural folks was eye-opening. The urban schools had the advantage of more advanced high school classes, but far greater problems with violence and substance abuse. The small-town school population certainly had its share of bullies, especially toward kids who moved in from outside the area, but the drugs were mostly limited to alcohol and occasionally pot. The classes weren't as rigorous and there was no opportunity to take college courses for high school credit, but classes were smaller.

When I graduated and moved out to Provo, which even in the early 1980s was becoming a large urban area, it had a comfortable small-town feel. It also lacked the constant mockery and antagonism that I had put up with for about ten years, which at the time was more than half my life. I thought I was in heaven.

Your question is worthy. I think the answer requires that we ask some groundwork questions, such as: Why do people live in cities, anyway?

It's not at all an obvious thing. Mutual protection seems the obvious answer, but that breaks down on analysis. If a city, being more localized, is easier to defend, then it's also easier to attack with concentrated forces. If you're in the city, there is often no place to run. And until very recent times, a couple of centuries or so, you had all the disease and horrific odor associated with raw sewage running in the streets. You can't really grow any significant amount of food in the cities or keep large livestock. Such population centers breed vermin and lice, both of which are disease vectors. City life also has a weakening effect on both the bodies and minds of the inhabitants, perhaps especially men. It was noted as far back as Roman times, and probably much further back than that, that country boys were much better as army recruits than city boys, who complained incessantly about uncomfortable sleeping conditions, bad food, constant marching and other physical exertion, and the lack of available women. Country boys were used to physical hardship, and many or perhaps most of them had not been sexually corrupted into open promiscuity. So since ancient times, the "simple country virtues" have been recognized.

So, then, why does anyone live in cities? The answer appears to be that large congregations of people appear to engender desirable side effects. Perhaps the most evident of these is money production. Cities are almost always built up at harbors or river confluences, places where people can ship goods in bulk and trade for items not easily available in their immediate area. So clever city people can always get rich. Most people like a rich lifestyle, so that's an inducement to live "in town".

Every university that I know of is associated with one or more large cities. Universities basically do not exist outside a city context. Since a university is pretty much by definition a place of great diversity of thought and attitude, it makes sense that you find them only in or near large cities. Even in places where a university was intentionally built out in the middle of Cowtown Nowhere, the city tends to grow just as a natural result of the presence of the university. Witness e.g. State College, PA; College Station, TX; Pullman, WA; and even (especially) Provo, UT.

This being the case, it's human nature that those who attend universities and gain more education (and sometimes, though not always, knowledge) than their rural brethren will tend to be prideful of that fact and look down their noses at the unwashed masses. From there, the path to urbanites despising rural folks is obvious, and the reaction of rural people disliking city folks becomes inevitable.

That's my wildly oversimplified analysis in a nutshell.

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For what it's worth, the Prophet Joseph wanted Zion to consist of several small towns/cities rather than one large one. That would give people a greater sense of community, and also have "more skin in the game"/ownership, thus hopefully preventing some would-be freeloaders.

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1 hour ago, scottyg said:

For what it's worth, the Prophet Joseph wanted Zion to consist of several small towns/cities rather than one large one. That would give people a greater sense of community, and also have "more skin in the game"/ownership, thus hopefully preventing some would-be freeloaders.

As I recall, the plat for the city of Zion included very large, deep lots (something like 1/4 acre, IIRC) with the idea that each resident would have quite an extensive garden.  Outside of the central complex of twelve temples (with “temple” here probably encompassing worship houses as well as administration buildings and infrastructure such as tithing yards and the like), I don’t think the plat anticipated anything like a modern urban core.

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I grew up and currently live in the suburb of a mid-size city. My in-laws are all country rural folk. I like to think that gives me a decent range of experience.

My job has me teaching kids virtually from all over the state and it's still been eye-opening. It's not unusual for rural families to pick this school out of convenience, but today I got a new student whose family doesn't have a functional address. Oh, there have a house, but it's basically situated in a census designated area without recognized roads and, well, it just blew my mind. The official address was a general description of where the home is relative to another area.

Some of you read this, saying, well, duh.

But to me it's almost like this family is now The Other. Oh, they seem lovely, but I can't comprehend the address.

So if these deeply rural families are The Other to me, it's quite likely to speak of this difference between city and country.

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Here in Wyoming we define "town" as a place having at least 1 of the following:

- A gas station

- A stop light

- Is located on some road junction such that you say "turn right when you reach Johnsonville"

 

 

It is a very different mindset then other places.  For an example from 4 o'clock today: I work remotely and the company I'm working for is hosting a big "let's get together" event, with offices all across North America and Europe.  An organizer from CT reached out to me, inviting me to go to the nearest office with promises of how fun this will be, food, swag, and socialization.  She was shocked I replied that it was over a 3 hour drive.  So she asked "would you manager approve of you flying down?".  The airport is also 3 hours away.  She meant well, and I thanked her for that, but it's just a different world than she's used to.

In contrast: last week a co-worker of mine needed to have it verified in-person that he has a real passport.  I was the nearest employee, so we met in the middle of the 3 hour drive.  And he was thrilled I saved him from having to drive 7 hours both there and back.  We met at a nice little town: they have a gas station (it's the only gas station 1-2 hours in any direction).  

For a third example: when I first moved to WY, literally that week I discovered that I was expecting and needed a new wardrobe.  I live in a big city for WY standards-- we have 3 grocery stores and 2 thrift stores.  No maternity clothes and I would have to drive to Colorado to get clothes.  I was complaining about this and how I missed "civilization".  My new co-worker asked where I was from: Denver.  She replied "Oh, I like Denver, it's a cute little town".  "Huh?  Cute little town- there's 3 million people there!  Where are you from?"  "Beijing".  Oh.... everything is relative.        And I have since learned that small towns are way better than cities (more on that next post).  

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Why I love my small town (30k population):

- Because I can walk/bike to everywhere I need.  For all other shopping, there's Amazon.

- I see familiar faces are the park, getting to know each other and that sense of community.  And with 30k, it's enough to be familiar but not claustrophobic.

- I can leave whenever I want.  Hiking in the mountains is a 7 minute drive.  Easy star-gazing with my daughter.  There is freedom to spread my wings as far as I want.

- "Traffic" is when I accidentally drive by the High School when the students get out.  It's a really annoying 4 minute wait.

- Just down to earth.  No clutter.

 

 

Why it's not for everyone:

- (Big one) Work.  There are a very limited number of business in town.  I enjoy remote work, but it's not for everyone, and that's really limiting.

- There are limited opportunities for in-person specialized groups.  For example, for competitive sports it's slim pickings for teams here, and for games there's a lot of driving.

- In a small town you got to entertain yourself.  We don't have Boardwalk musicals-- but the high school puts on two performances a year.  We do things like have huge bubble parties in the parking lot.  The local parade and fair is the time the kids show off their pigs.  

- We don't have all of those "big city" amenities and shopping.  If it can't be found at the grocery store, you either Amazon or drive to Colorado.

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28 minutes ago, Jane_Doe said:

- In a small town you got to entertain yourself.  We don't have Boardwalk musicals-- but the high school puts on two performances a year.  We do things like have huge bubble parties in the parking lot.  The local parade and fair is the time the kids show off their pigs.

I'd rather raise my children in such an environment. Honestly, I think I'd rather live my life in such an environment. I think Zion will have teenager plays and fairs where people show off their hogs.

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6 hours ago, Jane_Doe said:

Why I love my small town (30k population):

- Because I can walk/bike to everywhere I need.  For all other shopping, there's Amazon.

I don't think of my community as a small town (it's totally a suburb), but it's a third of the population of yours. I can walk the diameter of it in 45 minutes.

But the access to things in a pinch is very nice.

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10 hours ago, Just_A_Guy said:

As I recall, the plat for the city of Zion included very large, deep lots (something like 1/4 acre, IIRC) with the idea that each resident would have quite an extensive garden.  Outside of the central complex of twelve temples (with “temple” here probably encompassing worship houses as well as administration buildings and infrastructure such as tithing yards and the like), I don’t think the plat anticipated anything like a modern urban core.

A lot of the early pioneer settlements in Utah were based on the pattern of the Zion Plat.

Today's world devotes less land to farming than what was once required.  So, our lot sizes would be based on different criteria:

A 1/4 acre is 10890 sf.  The average lower middle class house today resembles the "mansions" of Nauvoo in size and complexity.  So, a 35' to 40' width is fairly typical for an average house.  Add a 10' offset at the sideyard and you're left with a 60' width.  So, the length would be about 181.5'  Based on 1 mile squares, this would create about 28 lots x 84 lots along the 1 mile block.  I chose those numbers because they are multiples of 7.  And that tends to work out well.

Add roads, easements, etc. this would be about right.  Just over 2000 households in each section (1 sq mi / 640 acres) of land.  Assuming an average of 4/household, that sounds like four stakes per section.  A stake center every 1/4 sq mi.  Imagine that.

 

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10 hours ago, Jane_Doe said:

She was shocked I replied that it was over a 3 hour drive.  So she asked "would you manager approve of you flying down?".  

—Chooses air travel (funded by someone else) over a car, any time the drive would be in excess of three hours.

—Thinks YOU are the primary cause of global climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you modern America in a nutshell.

Edited by Just_A_Guy
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2 hours ago, Just_A_Guy said:

—Chooses air travel (funded by someone else) over a car, any time the drive would be in excess of three hours.

—Thinks YOU are the primary cause of global climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you modern America in a nutshell.

Haha.  Ironically, when the Covid shut downs were in full swing, guess which state had zero decrease in driving?  Wyoming. 
 

Honestly here’s my total driving for a full week: a trip to the grocery store (5 miles round trip), a trip to church (2 miles round trip), and maybe 2 other trips around town.  We walk to school, friends, library,  and before working fully remote I’d bike to work 6 months of the year.

 And then about every 6 weeks we got to go to Colorado for Costco or something (3 hour round trip). 

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Colorado Springs here.  Just for the record, we call you Wyoming folks "North Denver".  (We do think fondly of y'all though.  Laramie and Rawlins are like young cousins.)

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