Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In praise of smaller cities

Growing up in Ann Arbor was wonderful. I was able to enjoy many amenities of a larger city--museums, fairs, culture, arts--while still being able to get out into nature relatively easily. I attended college in another small city, Kalamazoo. Though I loved my time there, I began to feel like I wanted a bigger pond. Though I loved my experiences in small cities, in high school and college I started to feel like I was destined to become a Sophisticated, Big City Person.

After undergrad, I got my wish: I joined Teach for America and got placed as a high school biology teacher in Chicago. While I truly enjoyed my time in the Windy Apple, it made me realize I had taken some things about smaller cities for granted: the ease of being part of the community; the ability to really know the city; and most importantly, the ability get out of the city. In Chicago I realized that maybe I wasn't destined to be a Sophisticated, Big City Person. Maybe I was a bit more of a hayseed* than I had thought.

Jon Wilcox, a friend of Damn Arbor, sent us a tip that Ann Arbor was featured on the front page of The Atlantic Cities today. Micheline Maynard's article, In Praise of Smaller Cities, sums up many of my feelings about small city life quite well.

When I was growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t wait to get out. There was no view as thrilling as the map of a big city laid out from an airplane window at nightfall. Each time my parents took us on a trip, I plotted my escape. I poured over our weekly issue of The New Yorker, memorizing the places advertised in the back of the magazine.

On Sunday afternoons, my brother and I sat in my godmother’s car, playing the game we called “Driving to Chicago.” (Thankfully, her keys were safely put away.)

Eventually, I got my wish. I've lived in Chicago, New York, Washington, and Tokyo. And now, I’m back in Ann Arbor, the town where I was born. Only I’m not standing on our Main Street and despairing.

Turns out my years living in big cities have given me an unexpected education in getting the most out of small city life. They’ve helped me discover what’s most important to me: a lively, diverse community, with access to good food, the arts, the world around us, and a comfortable place to live that’s also affordable on a freelancer’s budget.

Gentle Readers, what do you think about small city life? Do you yearn for something bigger? Are smaller cities right for you? Do you yearn for something smaller? Please share your thoughts.

*Maybe we could call bumpkins from Michigan "appleseeds" as opposed to "hayseeds?"


  1. My husband and I both just moved to Ann Arbor from Chicago (by choice). I'd lived there for six years, and he'd lived there for three. Before that, he lived in NYC. We wanted to live somewhere smaller, more accessible and closer to nature without giving up culture. Great article... it speaks directly to the reason we moved here.

  2. Sounds like my story too. I grew up in Michigan, went to school in Ann Arbor, and couldn't wait to get to a big city. I lived in D.C. and Austin for five years, and realized that the cons of big city life (population density, traffic, transiency, high(er) cost of living, level of stress) didn't fit with me. For me, Ann Arbor has the perfect mix of culture, opportunities, while not being a huge town. I love NYC, SF, and Portland - they're great to visit. Then I can come back to my home that I love. When I moved back to Michigan two years ago, I immediately noticed how quiet the night is...you can hear crickets. I love that.