Our town

Last night I found more people who have independently created a fantasy about choosing a small town and moving there with all their friends. This makes… five times, I think, in the last few months, that I’ve run into this daydream.

It’s straightforward enough: pick a small town with cheap real estate, move there with all your friends. All of you make some contribution like growing organic vegetables or opening an indie cinema. Get enough people on board to make the town really cool. Optional bonus features include buying a huge statue for the center of town— say, one of the Lenins that periodically gets offloaded by former Eastern block countries— or hiring a promising architecture student to design a whole street or subdivision, like a mini version of Gaudi’s Barcelona.

I’ve heard different opinions on the ethics of taking over a town, and how to be respectful of the existing townsfolk, but the main idea doesn’t seem to surprise anybody.

So now I’m curious. Why is this such a common fantasy right now? What is it about?

I wonder about a couple of things. (Warning: I’m high on coffee and I’m about to dork out.)

Fear of complexity. I might as well put this first; it’s the only thing I seem to talk about these days. Is the desire to move to a small town, where it is easy to be influential, a reaction to overwhelming complexity? Cities are second only to maybe anthills as the most commonly discussed example of systems that are too complex to understand or control without special new theories, and where individual actions have unpredictable impacts on the whole. Could moving to a small town be a way to get away from information overload and find a less confusing, more simplistic cultural life?

The death of indie. I’ve complained before about how the indie/hipster counterculture has become pretty much just a commercial shopping habit. We’ve had what, twenty five years worth of young people moving to the big city to get in the loop with indie culture (meet tastemakers, be creative, go to shows, buy sneakers, etc)? I think of moving to a small town as a hipster fantasy, because that’s who I hear it from and also because having a freelance creative job— the kind of thing you could transplant to a small town— is kind of a hipster ideal. Are hipsters ready to find a new way to be countercultural, now that everything indie is so mainstream and so designer? Seeking cheap rent is, to me, usually a sign that people want more time to work on changing something, or more time to participate in something meaningful. Or, is this like the last gasp of hipster vanity, to get into a pond so small that you can be indie and amateur and still be the biggest fish around?

Displacement. The more obvious factor is just how expensive cities are getting, and this one in particular. This is basic gentrification— a neighbourhood gets expensive and only one kind of people can afford to live there anymore. All the diverse tradespeople, artists, families, students, businesses and various workers who made the neighbourhood awesome go somewhere cheaper. Maybe this desire for everybody to move to the same place is just a survival instinct, trying to preserve the diverse, fun city life by moving it to a sort of cultural nature reserve. Is the idea of moving to a remote, small, undesirable town a protective manoeuver, to get as far away as possible from invasive condo developments, and to avoid ever being displaced again?

OK! No more explainy voice! I keep turning this over in my head to see if it would actually be an awesome thing to do, or whether it would be a weird, defensive, vain thing to do. I can’t decide. (I also can’t imagine getting many people to commit to such a plan… but still I must get to the bottom of it, for some reason.)

One thought on “Our town

  1. That’s a good one, Erin. I had kind of the opposite experience growing up in small towns (I was a bit of an outsider and only very similar people would be my friends, and walking around alone was an invitation to be teased), so I hadn’t considered the know-your-neighbours type of advantages.

Comments are closed.