mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do small towns matter?

Over at the new Culture11 site (billed as the conservative's Slate), a dude from a small town in NJ makes the case that small towns matter in response to a plan by the governor of NJ to promote shared services.

The article interested me because, like the author, I grew up in a small town in NJ - Raritan Boro, population 6338 - twice the size of the author's beloved Spring Lake, but still well under Corzine's under 10,000 cap. Raritan is a small town- physically it's about a square mile, and it's the kind of place where there are lots of old-timers, most of who know each other's business.

In some ways, I miss it. The small town politics, the people who know each other, the close-nit sense of belonging, the little downtown with the Raritan Bakery and E&M Convenience, home of the belly-buster sandwich. Where I live now is exactly the opposite of a small town. Nottingham, MD is a zip code in Baltimore County. It's a designation most people don't know exists, even though they drive through it or shop in it. It gets mistaken for White Marsh (the White Marsh Mall is actually in Nottingham) or Perry Hall or Parkville. There is no town center, just the mall, and Belair and Joppa Road with their sprawl of convenience stores and strip malls. There is no mayor, no police chief, no town council - services come from Baltimore County.

It's hard for me to separate how much of comparable closeness of small-town Jersey comes from it being a small town, and how much of that comes from it being where my family is. My parents have lived there, in the same 3-bedroom ranch house, since 1972. My dad grew up there, my mom grew up a couple towns away. My aunt, my dad's sister, lives on the other side of town. My mom's brothers live one town over and a couple towns over. My parent's church is in town. My dad's been on the town's board of health as long as I can remember. His cousin is a deacon at their church, a local political figure, a mayoral candidate.

I don't feel nearly the connection to where I live that they do where they are, but I haven't been here as long. I don't have roots. I go to a church miles away from where I live. All of my family is still in Jersey somewhere. So I don't think I can blame my disconnect from my surroundings on a lack of small-town living.

And I'm not sure how much of the small-town atmosphere still exists in small towns. The author writes about how living next to the police chief benefited him, but most of the police officers in Raritan live elsewhere - it's hard to fill a police force with locals when there is only 6000 people in your town, and most of them are graying.

Still, I wonder if I lived in a small town, if I'd know my neighbors - how much of the disconnect I feel with the people I live around is because it doesn't have that sense of community, and how much of it is that when I come home after a long day of work, I don't really feel like talking to my neighbors anyway.


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