Over 80 percent of Americans now live in urban areas. But a growing number of those who do wonder if they should pack it in and migrate to smaller towns. 

Gracy Olmstead at the American Conservative weighs the pros and cons of this wondering in a thoughtful article this morning entitled “Abandoning vs. Living in Place.”

On the pro side, moving to a smaller town can offer the possibility of a more tight-knit community. In spite of living in very close proximity to each other, many people in cities and suburbs feel isolated, strangers to those around them. In a small town, one’s options of people to socialize with may be more limited, but that limitation can be an incentive to form stronger bonds – to “love the one you’re with.” 

“Loneliness in crowds” is one stressor of city life. In addition, constantly having to deal with noise and traffic can feel like it’s taking years off of your life. The Platonic and Aristotelian traditions hold that contemplation is the highest activity of human beings. Modern cities can often thwart one’s ability to engage in this activity. Small town living can provide some relief from these stressors, and perhaps provide more opportunities to lead a contemplative life. 

On the con side, the primary consideration that deters many from leaving the cities seems to be economic. Most of the jobs available outside of the city do not offer as high of salaries, as much potential for professional growth, or as much of an immediate opportunity to put higher education skills to use. (The number of Americans who telecommute is growing, but it’s still not an option for most workers.) Plus, big agriculture has made it impossible for most to make a living off of subsistence farming. Most small farmers are not going to be like Wendell Berry and be able to supplement their incomes as famous writers.    

Cities, too, have always been the centers of culture. Schools in cities and suburbs are by no means perfect, but if you have the means, you typically still have access to better education than in smaller towns. You also have more access to museums, athletics, public lectures, book clubs, and more forms of entertainment. 

Plus, small towns are no guarantee of utopia; they also have their problems – depression, drug use, etc. As the figure of death in many famous paintings reminds us, “Et in Arcadia ego” – “I am also with you in paradise.”

What do you think? In weighing the pros and cons, are most people better off in cities or in smaller towns?

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