Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Are Big Cities The New Small Towns?

I miss Mayberry / Sitting on my porch drinking ice cold Cherry Coke / Where everything is black and white / Picking on my six string / People pass by and you call them by their first name / Watching the clouds roll by.
~ Rascal Flatts, "Mayberry"

When we decided to move back to Chicago from Indiana last year, we held kitchen-table talks and drafted several pros and cons lists. We had immensely enjoyed the special times we had spent my family and two of our dear friends who live in Indianapolis. We knew we’d miss them if we moved, and we do today - all the time. There were other pros in our Indiana column, too: the lower cost of living, the parking lots, and the tranquility of the natural environment around us.

Ultimately, though, we just couldn’t shake the heaviest con in my home state’s column: that we felt lonely.

It’s not that we didn’t spend time with our close friends and family there. We did, and we loved it. Rather, we felt lonely because of the suburbs themselves. For us, a childless young couple, they felt insular and quiet.

Of course, I thought it would be different. When we moved to Indiana, I had imagined a Mayberry-type sense of belonging: the smaller the town, the closer the community, right?

Not for us.

People held doors, but didn’t engage in conversation; neighbors pulled their dogs away from ours, instead of stopping to say hello; And no one learned my name in Zumba class for at least two months. It felt like everyone belonged to their own social group - a church, an office, a school, or a playgroup - and we were always on the outside. My mom even paraphrased A Few Good Men to joke about our dog’s boredom in our neighborhood: “Teddy was leaving his apartment for a walk, and he didn’t see a soul, and he didn’t meet a thing.” That was really the crux of our loneliness: we missed walking out our door and seeing people, like we had in the city.

It took moving away from the big city to help us realize what a powerful sense of community urban environments foster. So we moved back, and I’ve renewed my belief that big cities are the new small towns.

As I’ve mused before, I sometimes long for simpler times. I wish I could have been born in a Fried Green Tomatoes kind of era, where everyone knew everyone and people stayed put. In fact, one of my biggest gripes about “the real world” so far has been the stark dichotomy of life during and after college: we transition from a campus life full to the brim of social activity and friendships, to an office life of sitting in lonely cubicles for 9 hours a day, staring at computer screens, Gchatting with friends who are a plane-ride away because we all took jobs in faraway places. I can’t help but wish we all lived closer together, in a simpler time and place.

While cities are hardly simple - especially this one - they do cultivate the most basic form of human communication: face-to-face interaction. These days, we real-life chat with our neighbors in the elevator and learn about their goings-on. We greet our doormen by name, as they do us, and talk about parking tickets and online shopping. We bond with dog-owners as crazy as us in our local dog park. We roll our eyes with our fellow pedestrians at errant bicyclists and honking taxis. And right now, we can hear the shouts of our fellow Blackhawks fans outside our window, and we can’t wait to celebrate with them later.

Big cities force us together, and I can’t help but love mine for it.

Chicago is our new Mayberry, and once the interest rates dropped low enough, we got to buy a little piece of it. "Sweet Home" indeed:

The new digs.
Ian smiling about the Blackhawks win.
Looking into the sunroom
Bathroom. Aka Teddy's room (he loves the cool tile)

Bedroom pics coming soon in a post about our wall art. Teaser: Ian picked out the prints in the bedroom.

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