Friday, April 18, 2008

Town versus City

This research-related separation has been a good time for me and Claire to mull over what it is that we want in our future, how we hope to live, and whether or not I’d look good with a handlebar mustache. I think so.

Anyway, one thing that we’ve both been thinking about a lot lately is whether we want to live in a city or a small town. Hamilton is essentially a small town, and it has all of the benefits of small-town living: we know all of our neighbors, people talk to us in the supermarket, there aren’t a lot of hipsters or snobs here, and you can follow your own strange impulses quietly without anyone else caring one way or the other. I’ve seen middle-aged men walking down the street in pajama bottoms and a cowboy hat before without getting any stares! Hamilton is not image-conscious and the other small-towns that I’ve lived in were the same way; the cliché about them being conformist is nonsense: they were actually good incubators for creativity.

On the other hand, small-towns really can be weirdly insular, and their small problems can appear apocalyptic. Some of our neighbors don’t get along with each other and I’m sure that one day it will end in rocket fire. It can be hard to stay out of those small-town dustups. And then there’s small-town depression: there’s nothing to do, people don’t have the same interests, nobody ever seems to read, and the movie theatres suck. It could be worse: I actually worked in a small-town where the local ‘entertainment’ involved kids driving over a metal trash-can in a parking lot with their pickup trucks.

Cities, of course, tend to have better culture. Toronto has a great film festival, theatre troupes, nightclubs, a thriving music scene, fashion, the Second City, a gay district, and its own horror movie magazine. Claire’s brother and his friends have great apartments that would be perfect for a husband, wife, and cat. Moreover, our old neighborhood was wonderful to walk around on Sunday mornings and buy food, search through record stores, and go to movies in the oldest movie theatre in Canada, which unlike our local multiplex, shows rare and provocative films, and not Norbit.

Of course, cities have their downsides too. For one thing, most of them are gentrifying at a frightening rate. New York City has gone to shit in recent years, as the druggies, hookers and artists have been pushed further and further out by barbaric hordes of yuppies and trust-fund brats. Toronto already has million dollar apartments with “sub zero freezers” that don’t justify their price. With the high rents come the snobs and pricks. I’ve thought that Paris might be better without Parisians, and Toronto is known for being too arrogant and “American”. You could not wear pajama bottoms and a cowboy hat without getting glared at.

So, the question is: does all the culture and things to do justify the high rents and insufferable people in the cities? Or, conversely, does living around nice people and being able to afford things justify having fuck-all to do in small towns? And, if we decide we want to live in a city, should I look for a profession that isn’t entirely likely to require me to teach at Western Farmville State University?


Holly said...

Greg and I wrestled similar dilemmas when we were looking for a good roost. Although our choice turns out to be in Austria, I believe the basis for our search is sound: We looked for a small city within reasonable travel distance of a large city. There are still small cities in the world, it just takes a lot of searching to find one that suits you. A further problem is, if you're looking to stay in a certain region (say, Ontario, to pick a random word) your choices will be even more limited.

There are also large towns--municipalities which will eventually grow up to become small cities. If you're planning to hunker down in a fairly permanent way, you could think of that as an investment. Sure, it's like watching a tree grow. But trees DO grow.

Just my 2¢, or ~€0.013...

narrator said...

I think this has much to do with phases of life, and I think of myself as lucky enough to have been able to live lots of places, at different times, as I followed different muses. In the end, outside of the time of raising young children, I prefer big cities, though I much preferred the pre-gentrification New York and Dublin to their current versions (of course). Not that small towns don't have their charms - but even with proximity to big cities the limitations seem severe. I guess my two big dislikes are small college towns (as I might dislike any single-industry community for its lack of variation) and suburbs which have grown since the 1960s (which are simply not human places at all).

The question is, are you following jobs are looking for places. That is often what decides the deciding.