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Our [Hypothetical] Town

Like most Americans, I have seen or read Our Town on at least fifty-three occasions (it seems to be a rite of passage to sniffle through Emily Webb’s ghost visit after she dies in childbirth.  WAIT–dies in childbirth–doesn’t that feel like it should be a deterrent to teen sex in the same vein of Scared Straight?  Why did we all have sex after reading that play?).  I realized as I walked through Shepherdstown how much an impact the words of that play had on what mentally shaped my ideal town.

Not the milkman or the church or even the high school sweethearts who grow up to marry one another–more the idea of community, the pace, the talking by the fence, knowing people for your entire life.  From birth to death.

I think it’s the reason I’m drawn to Smith Island, drawn to Chincoteague or Shelburne Falls or Montague.  Because they’re small towns where families stay for generations and whatever drawbacks that closeness can bring, it also brings with it an element of safety and belonging.

Josh is a city person and he really misses living downtown.  It was a major concession to live out here in our small town, which isn’t nearly small enough for my tastes.  I don’t love where we live, but it’s as close as I can get to a small town without dragging Josh even further from the city.

If I could build my ideal town it would be…

  • a college town which would (1) give me a place to work and (2) attract speakers and fine arts performances.  Though it would be a somewhat cloistered campus, where we could get in, but the college kids couldn’t get out to pee on our lawn after their keggers.
  • a beach town where the beach is separate from the commercial area.
  • flat and easily bike-able, with good bike lanes that have a bit of a barrier from the cars.
  • a state-of-the-art medical facility with hospital and fertility clinic.
  • a view of a body of water from our home.
  • children’s museum in town with a cafe on the main level.
  • a community center with classes.
  • bookstore and coffeehouse.
  • large, varied food store with a built-in pharmacy.
  • restaurants: pizza place, vegetarian sandwich shop, pan-Asian, and a burrito place.
  • library with free internet service that lends books, music, and movies.
  • cooking supply store and fabric/craft store.
  • a movie theater that also has the ability to do live shows.
  • sizable Jewish population, but only one shul for each denomination.  A kosher butcher in town and a mikveh.
  • a single campus for the elementary, middle, and high school that serves as a focal point for the whole community.

Are you a city person, a suburb person, a rural person, a small town person, or…something else entirely?  And do you already live in the type of area that suits you, or are you really a city person trapped in a small town?

What are five things that would be in your hypothetical ideal town?


1 Wishing4One { 02.23.10 at 8:23 am }

I am such a city girl. Always have been. I grew up in the NE in a big city, moved out West to a semi big city and now I live in a big ass city of 18+ million. But I LOVE living near water. In the NE I was close to Lakes. In the West I was sort of close to the Pacific plus we lived in a gated community on a man made lake, and here in Cairo of course we are not too far from the Nile.
– My ideal city would be on the water.
– Everything would be open 24 hours but not in a chaotic way, just convenient and calm.
– Would offer free infertility treatments and health care for all in an office with a view of the water.
– Be filled with people of all colors and religions and everyone would get along great.
– Would be rated the safest, cleanest, most prosperous and happy city on earth to live in.

Oh how I love your hypothetical questions, you always get us thinking or dreaming in this case. Its amazing.

2 Amel { 02.23.10 at 9:16 am }

Interesting post. Hmmm…I used to live in a big city (Bandung, Indonesia) and now I live in a small village in Lapland (Sodankylä, Finland). To get the gist of the differences between the two places, let me use numbers.

The population in Bandung area is over 14,000 per square km.
The population in Sodankylä area is 0.8 per square km.

Before moving here, I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in, ‘coz I spent my whole life living in Bandung (for 28 years), but surprise surprise, I feel at home here (though I did make a pledge to myself to learn to love every little bit of this new place that I had NEVER seen prior to my moving here)…and now that I’ve lived here for 3 years, I find that going back to Bandung jars me in many ways: it’s too noisy there, too much traffic, etc. etc. etc. So go figure whether I’m a city girl or not…perhaps I used to be one, but not anymore. There are of course things in the big cities that I miss in this village, but there are also the plus sides of living in a small village that I wouldn’t trade with living in a big city.

OK, enough babbling…what would I want in my ideal neighborhood that aren’t here already?

– Asian restaurants!!!
– A university or college that offers more varied subjects to learn: esp. Finnish literature (‘coz I’m VERY interested in it).
– A big used book store with plenty of Finnish and English books in it.
– At least one mountain in this whole area (the scenery here is rather flat).
– English speaking churches he he…

3 niobe { 02.23.10 at 9:17 am }

Well, now that I think about it, I’m really perfectly happy with the town I actually do live in.

But that’s probably because I lack imagination. Or emotional depth. Or something.

4 loribeth { 02.23.10 at 9:29 am }

My dad was a banker, & so we were transferred every 3-6 years when I was growing up, mostly to small, rural towns, ranging in size from a few hundred people to 13,000 when I was in high school. I went away to school in two fair-sized cities, lived with dh in a midtown apartment in Canada’s largest city for five years, and am currently living in a suburb of about 90,000 people near there. So — having lived in a broad spectrum of situations, I’ve learned that each scenario has good & bad points, advantages & disadvantages — & that it’s possible to adjust to just about any kind of lifestyle.

I am grateful that I grew up in small towns in the 1960s & 1970s. I can’t speak for what it’s like today, but my friends & I had so much more freedom to roam around, unsupervised, than children today (at least those in the city & suburbs around me) seem to have. At the same time, I know my mother was relieved when we moved to a larger town, closer to the city, with more educational & cultural opportunities for my sister & me (not to mention better shopping, lol). And while we (young teenagers at the time) had to be dragged away from our friends kicking & screaming, I think we did eventually see the benefits. ; )

I enjoy all the amenities of the suburb we live in right now, & being close to the city — but the daily commute is a grind, traffic is horrendous a good deal of the time & you don’t get a heck of a lot of house for your hard earned money (although you get more where I live than you would in the city proper).

My city born & bred dh says he’d like to move further away from the city after we retire. He’s never lived in a really small town, though, so I think he tends to romanticize. ; ) I could probably live comfortably in a relatively small town, so long as it was fairly close (say, within a half-hour’s drive) to a larger centre. My wish list of five would probably include: on or close to water, a good library/community centre, good hospital, a movie theatre and at least one decent restaurant. ; )

5 a { 02.23.10 at 9:31 am }

The downside to small town living is that unless your family has been there for at least 2 generations, you’re an outsider. But as a city girl who has relocated to a series of small towns which are loosely considered suburban (i.e. because the city grew), I don’t really care. It might be your town, but Ive got the whole world.

I’m torn though. I love the city, with things in walking distance; everything I need able to be found somewhere, most likely at any hour of the day; interesting architecture; diversity in population; etc. On the other hand, I hate traffic. And finding parking spaces.

So for now, life in the suburbs is good. My neighbors are close, but not too close. My commute is effortless. My neighborhood is always safe. I’m a short distance from cultural activities. The air is fairly clean. The library system is FANTASTIC!

Things my town has to have:

Water and sewers (I am not drinking from a well, or dealing with a septic system!).
An excellent library system.
Close proximity to decent shopping (grocery -within 10 minute drive, clothing, etc – within 30 minute drive)
Close proximity to at least 2 top rated hospitals (within 40 minute drive)
One decent restaurant that doesn’t make my husband ill (harder to find than you’d think)

For everything else, I am willing to travel…

6 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 02.23.10 at 9:34 am }

I’m pretty divided myself. I’ve always wanted to live in a large city. I loved L.A. when I lived there. I love that Austin (my home) has become more metropolitan. I would much prefer to be at least proximate to a major metroplex.

I *hate* the lack of accommodations in my current city– I need stores and restaurants and more culture and more diversity and just more to do generally (I just about had a heart attack last week when I found out that we *finally* got a middle eastern restaurant, and it’s actually good! I was BLOWN AWAY.). I need life that doesn’t revolve around which flavor of Baptist church you belong to. Granted, we do have the residential college campus feel that you describe– the only problem with students that never leave campus is that the city doesn’t grow to support them. I mean, Austin is basically a giant college town that became giant because there were businesses to support a youthful culture and lifestyle. That would never happen here, because the students never leave campus, so why would they build a funky coffee shop across the street from the university? Why would they have cheap fresh fast food down the road? Why would someone want to have a bar/live music space, when the kids don’t ever come?

Alternately, if city life isn’t possible, I’d like a tiny farm in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors to bug me and no traffic to irritate me and some complete and total peace. I’d probably prefer the city, though. But if I have to live in a less populous area, I’d rather it be bucolic than small-town.

My husband, though, is right in line with you. I think he would be thrilled to live in your ideal town. He’s a water baby, a beach lover, and much prefers small town living. He grew up in a tiny town in a sparsely populated region of Germany/Holland, where you bike everywhere, and everyone knows everyone else, and there’s tidy rows of houses with large back gardens and small fences, and everyone goes to the same schools all the way through, and there’s some farmers on the outskirts of town whose kids come by to sell you milk and eggs after school.

And frankly, were we in Germany (or elsewhere in Europe) with the fantastic and inexpensive public transit, I think I could deal with something like that, because Amsterdam is only a 1.5 hr train ride away. Flights to other countries are damn cheap. And life can actually be interesting while also being intimate.

Feh. I don’t know. What I do know is that the only positive to this exact area I live in now is that it is beautiful here (trees, mountains, hiking). It’s too big to be a small town, and too small and backward to have any amenities of a slightly larger town. Stuck in the middle and it’s not cool*. But at least I’m only 1/2 an hour from 20+ boutique wineries…

*I did meet a person a few weeks ago who also lived in Austin for quite a while before moving here, and he said that he thought my perspective on this town would change once I had kids. This is not a young-hip-couple kind of place. This is a have-kids-as-soon-as-possible kind of place, I guess. Maybe that’s why I have such a negative opinion of this area, because becoming a parent hasn’t been easy for me and I don’t like feeling like there’s no culture suited for my life station, feeling so excluded from culture because I don’t have tiny people to call me ‘Mom’…

7 Dana { 02.23.10 at 9:59 am }

I would like:
*an area near nice mountains (for skiing,boarding and camping) AND the ocean (for lounging and swimming)
*State university nearby for continuing education, cultural activities and sporting events
*a thriving “downtown” with quaint shops, antiques and mom & pops restaurants
* lots of clean parks connected by an amazing activity trail with lots of wellness activities sponsored by the city
* Safe neighborhoods with connected neighbors and sidewalks

8 Lindsay { 02.23.10 at 10:22 am }

City city city. I am such a city girl. Well, close in suburban really, kinda like where I am. I go nuts in anything smaller than this. The year spent in the Poconos was hell on earth.

I need the following:
Mass transit to a big city nearby
Walking trails
Decent access to retail for special occasions
Excellent restaurants
Quality public schools

9 susy { 02.23.10 at 10:29 am }

Even though congested at times, I’m super happy with where I live. It’s a couple of miles north of Miami and a couple of miles south of Ft Lauderdale, so while I have “the city(ies)” within reach, I get to be w/in a busy city-burb. I describe it like this, b/c there’s great communities to live in where it’s quiet and neighborhood-y, yet super close you have the shops and parks and libraries and eateries.

10 Shelli { 02.23.10 at 10:34 am }

I like the city for shopping, and restaurants- but it’s always nice to leave. Lived in the city in college, hated it.

I grew up in the ‘burbs. What once was a small town morphed into a medium to large town. So, when I was young, I felt like I had to drive EVERYWHERE which was a pain (the nearest shopping center was 20 minutes away… we had a grocery store and a McD’s… that was it). But in the last 15-20 years, the sprawl finally reached my hometown. Now there’s not much I DON’T have. lol.

I moved back to my childhood town about 10 years ago. I guess life brought me full circle.

11 HereWeGoAJen { 02.23.10 at 10:59 am }

Farmer’s markets. Good parks. Oh, and good weather all the time, don’t forget that.

12 sunflowerchilde { 02.23.10 at 11:01 am }

I think you might like my town, actually, except that we’re not really near water. (Check it out – Davis, CA). As you might guess, with attributes like that, it is very expensive to live here, though. And it might still be a little bit big for your tastes. I love it here.

It definitely has a community feel, all kinds of classes (including the Davis Adult School), it’s incredibly bikeable (it’s Bike Town USA or something like that), fantastic restaurants, a university with great events and a wonderful cultural center (Mondavi Performing Arts Center), great schools, and an awesome food store (the co-op), albeit without a pharmacy (but there’s one even closer to my apartment than the co-op!

If I could change it, here’s what I’d do:

– slightly cooler weather year-round, including colors in the fall, hot but not sweltering summers, and a bit of snow in the winter
– the location – the middle of the central valley can be really ugly in the hot dry summers, and a few rolling hills and more trees would be nice
– more affordable housing; of course, it’s not affordable because everyone wants to live here
– a downtown that’s not dying – all the boutique shops are starting to go out of business

That’s about it! I love Davis, which is why we are about to spend a small fortune on a house to stay there.

13 Myndi { 02.23.10 at 12:33 pm }

Small town all the way. The smaller, the further out, the better.

– a good library and a wonderful used bookstore
– at least one restaurant/diner that made homestyle breakfast all day long (killer biscuits and gravy is a must!)
– lots of green space and varied landscapes so we could do any outdoorsy thing imaginable (kayak, hike, swim at the beach, mountain bike)
– a wonderful old-school community park in the middle of town where everyone gets together for 4th of July fireworks, picnics, to play tag and football, with swings and merry-go-rounds and all those things modern parks don’t have because they liability is too great
– an hour to an hour and half from a city with big name department stores (so once a month or so I can “go into town” for “supplies”) and an international airport (because I love to travel)

Where we live now (Lincoln, CA) is closer to what we’re after, but it isn’t “home”. In the next 4 years, we’ll find home and move there. It will be nice to finally settle in, though I don’t think we’ll necessarily find everything we’re looking for.

14 Melissa G. { 02.23.10 at 12:39 pm }

What a fantastic question.

I think deep down I am a rural person, but living in the burbs near a large metropolitan area has spoiled me with all of the uber variety and conveniences a big city has to offer.

I like the concept of a small town, except that I’m not a very social person and wouldn’t be super comfortable with everyone knowing my name and business. Which is why I love the anonymity of a big City, but at the same time I hate that it lacks the warmth of nature. Hmmmm, I’m so picky…

Well here are a few requirements:
1. Must be near an Ocean.
2. Must have nice weather.
3. Must be Safe and Clean.
4. Must have a Trader Joes. (Grocery Store)
5. Must have lots of variety in Restaurants.

And one more requirement – Must be economically accessable to all.

This was a fun one, I loved reading everyones answers. Thanks Mel!

15 Linda { 02.23.10 at 2:55 pm }

I’m such a big city girl, which is strange for someone who grew up in a small mining town. London & New York are /just about/ big enough for me, & I’m willing to reserve judgment on Tokyo until I see it, but nowhere else is big enough! LA’s got most of the things I need in a city, but it’s too spread out; I can’t get to everything easily enough. I’m definitely still homesick for London.

Hmm, my ideal city? Has to be somewhere sub-tropical, with fairly predictable weather, and by the sea, so I could have (or live in!) a boat. Has to be large. Must have lots of vegan restaurants & shops, plus a lot of museums, art galleries, theatres, etc. And nice architecture. Ideally, I’d like to uproot London & plonk it down on top of Honolulu, then live in a boat in the harbour. 🙂

16 Heather { 02.23.10 at 3:32 pm }


I want to move to your hypothetical town and be your neighbor.

We’d take over. 😉

17 Rebecca { 02.23.10 at 3:55 pm }

I would love a town that had the “small town” charm but had a city close by. I grew up in the suburbs and went to school in a city. I loved all the opportunities and diverse people but hate the traffic and the claustrophobia. Now I live in a tiny town that is located 1 1/2 hours from the nearest “big town” and 3 hours from any “big-ish city.” If I could just pick this town up and move it about 2 1/2 hours closer to a big city, I’d be golden. My husband is from a small town that is about 15 minutes from a “big town.” That always seems like a nice compromise.

18 lisa { 02.23.10 at 4:42 pm }

as long as i have
*my husband
*my dog
*a beach no more than an hour away
*sunshine for part of the year
*access to stellar medical care
im a happy girl…this is an interesting post as my husband and i have recently been tossing around the idea of moving. we live in NJ and are considering a move down the coast to charleston, SC

19 Chickenpig { 02.23.10 at 6:26 pm }

Interesting post. I used to live in a very small town and it sucked. The schools were horrible (you didn’t mention good schools, just a campus…if only the quality of schools was a given in a small town, which it isn’t. And I grew up in Ct, which has some of the best schools in the country.) Everyone knew your business, you couldn’t buy condoms w/o someone telling your mom (half the time it was a class mate behind the counter) and people wanted to close you into a box.
However, my husband and I prefer small town life to city life, so we are trying to move to a smaller town. We live in a large town now (it is too small to be considered a city by any stretch). I just want enough land to not see my neighbors, schools that won’t crush my kids desire to learn, a place close to our extended family, far enough away from everything so it won’t get built up by the time we are old, and dark enough at night so we can see the stars.
I live in Ct. I get a chuckle over all the wanting to be near water. Besides the cost being through the roof, you get to deal w tourists and other people that want to live near the water. Get me as far away from the water as possible! The Ocean here is cold and nasty. Besides, no matter where you live around here you’re close to the ocean, a river, or a lake anyway.

20 Jamie G. { 02.23.10 at 6:35 pm }

I totally agree about the importance of community. My husband and I have chosen to live in a small town for exactly that reason. Although, we have made trade offs in the areas of income and housing…we gladly give those things up for small town charm where we know our neighbors and can walk downtown to meet and greet friends. The biggies for me…
– being able to drive to work in 5 minutes
– mountains or some other type of green space where me and the dogs can get away
-friendly people
-a family feel

21 IF Crossroads { 02.23.10 at 7:54 pm }

I find that as my priorities change, my preferences change on where I want to live, ideally. We’ve moved 9 times in 12 years so I’ve had quite the sampling of cities and states so I think I have a fairly good idea of what I would want in a town.

Right now I dislike where I live. I’m too far away from public transportation, airports, quality shopping, etc.
My ideal town would be:
– close to the beach (I grew up 10 miles from the beach and I miss it) and in a climate that offers seasons but NO snow. I’ve had my fill for a lifetime.
– close (within a few miles) or within walking distance to a quality (non-chain) coffee shop with internet, bakery, cute reasonably priced clothing boutique and grocery store.
– near family but not too close (like within 1-2 hrs).
– preferably a college town
… maybe I should just move back to Raleigh, NC … come to think of it I really liked it there 🙂

22 coffeegrl { 02.23.10 at 7:55 pm }

I love where our house in Seattle is. I love that I have so much of a city environment in a neighborhood that is neither suburban nor located in the heart of downtown. This surprised me because I grew up in a small-ish city and figured that was good enough for me. But. I need Vietnamese and Ethiopian and Indian and Thai and Chinese and Japanese and all kinds of ethnic foods that I would be much less likely to find in a smaller community. And I need to be able to get to my friends in less than an hour. The hour commute is a killer. Here in Japan we’re in a more suburban/rural place and the commute to the city is brutal. I miss my friends who are only an hour away. I miss access to good coffee shops and world foods.

What 5 features would I love to have?
* Great library system(s)
* Lots of coffee shops (preferably small and family run)
* A wonderful ethnic mix of cultures and specifically foods!
* Lots of parks
* Great public transportation and lots of walkable areas/sidewalks so I don’t need to drive

23 Kristin { 02.24.10 at 12:31 am }

Hmmmmm, if you had asked me 4+ years ago, I would have said a country girl through and through but I have grown to love where I am now.

I think ideally, I would have 4 or 5 acres right on the edge of a city like I live in now…but, geez, my kids love the neighborhood we live in. They have multiple friends right around the corner and they are always going from house to house. Hmmm, I don’t know.

24 Care { 02.24.10 at 12:49 am }

I love the idea of living in the country. Not too far out…just far enough to have a little bit of land (maybe an acre or two) and yet still have neighbors that you know and can wave at. That said…I am far too fond of having amenities close by to actually make that move, especially not while the kids require ninety-gazillion trips to sporting events, school activities, and so on. Not to mention the commute to downtown every day to work. So for now we are in suburbia, which is probably well suited for me in this phase of my life. But I can see myself, once the kids are grown and gone, moving out of the city.

Ideally, I would love to have space (I don’t want to be able to reach out my window and touch the neighbor’s house). I want trees – lots of them. I want four seasons – although I want winter to be mild. And there would be a Mom & Pop type grocery store, a used bookstore, and a pizza place nearby.

25 B { 02.24.10 at 2:07 am }

I want to live in a place where I can own a goat and ducks and grow stuff but share it with neighbours so they can look after it when we’re on holidays. My neighbourhood needs to be culturally diverse so I have the (as a minimum) choice of thai, vietnamese, greek, italian, turkish, and south Indian food for when I don’t feel like cooking.
There needs to be lots of artisans who love making stuff and are happy to share secrets, an excellent choir that takes not-crash-hot singers like myself, arts venue that pulls international acts, and beside some wilderness and a beach. It has to be near somewhere big enough to have jobs that will work for Jake (state gov), but small enough to know about 1/3rd of your neighbours business. Circus classes in town would be a bonus.

I believe I will find this place one day soon.

26 Terry Elisabeth { 02.24.10 at 10:35 am }

I come from the burbs and I moved to the city and I love Montreal ! But I also need trees, parks, water, etc. and Montreal gives me that. If I need to get out I take a bus and I’m back at my parent’s place. I think I’m a city girl. I need libraries, book shops, internet (some places don’t have high speed internet), movie theaters, shops and people to look at and cafés !! My dream would be to move in a small town like Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, Avonlea from Anne of Green Gables or Three Pines in Louise Penny’s novels. Three Pines would be best.

My ideal town would have two cafés, two bookstores, a library, high speed internet, three different places to go grocery shopping, a Jean Coutu pharmacy. And my bofriend and my cat.

27 Amy { 02.24.10 at 4:42 pm }

I grew up in the city and now live in the suburbs. I do like the suburbs but wish we knew our neighbors (I guess I like that small town feel).

28 Tangled { 02.24.10 at 9:41 pm }

Although I grew up more out in the country, I am a city girl. My DH grew up in the city and loves the country. My preferred dwelling would be a small, historic town with character houses close to a big metropolitan city. This is kind of where we live now, however we are moving in two weeks to a much smaller city where we will live the burbs. Part of me is loving this. I am ready for quiet and space and safety. A part of me is scared of the monotony of the burbs.

Eventually, DH and I want to have a little hobby farm that is not too far from town, but enough to have about 5 acres. We want to have some sheep and goats and grow organic herbs and veggies. If we lived on the west coast we would grow some grapes and make wine!

29 luna { 02.24.10 at 11:50 pm }

I love your ideal town.
I’m a small town rural girl at heart, though I work in the Big City.
I can’t even list what I love and need right now because the topic is a bit too painful as it looks like we’re going to have to move and I love where we live now.

30 Briar { 02.25.10 at 9:04 pm }

Hardcore city. Never lived anywhere but cities. Find cities without 24 hour access to Haagen Dazs to be inferior to mine.

31 Battynurse { 02.26.10 at 2:15 am }

I’m not sure what I am. Back when I was 21 I lived downtown Portland and I LOVED it. I didn’t have a car but it was fairly easy to get anywhere by bus cause I was close to the main hub area, there was always stuff to do, places to go etc. But there is a little part of me that has always wanted to be a farmers wife living in a small farming community (although close to the city) and knowing all my neighbors and being friends with almost everyone.

32 Bea { 03.01.10 at 6:43 am }

Great hypothetical. If I could put in a cinema with creche within walking distance of our house I would say we’ve got it pretty ok. Oh – and if some of the nearby eating establishments (ones that allow children) could be open on Sunday or between 2pm and 6pm any day at all that would be ok with me, too.

I am more or less a city kid, but I crave just a touch of suburbia, and I like to have the option of escaping to the country at will. Mountains, with an option on beaches. Really, I just need to be rich enough to own about three or four houses.


33 Bea { 03.01.10 at 6:44 am }

Also – public transport. My biggest bugbear with where we live now. Not enough of it.


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