The country mice and the city mice are fighting it out in Canada. Here's what one writer has to say about it.
There is a debate raging in Canada right now, and it features the country mice and the city mice. It all started when a politician said she preferred rural living because she could walk next door and ask her neighbor for a cup of sugar, but that would never happen in downtown Toronto. Residents of Toronto were understandably irritated by her comment, which perpetuates “the persistent myth that small towns are friendlier, happier places.”
The national radio station, CBC, jumped aboard, hosting a discussion about whether cities can match small communities when it comes to a sense of belonging and community. Especially after Lloyd (the city mouse) shared his thoughts, it got me thinking about my own experiences.
There is, however, a problem with this whole debate, and that is that most people fall squarely into one of the two camps. Born-and-raised city people have not usually lived outside a city before, and the bred-in-the-bone farmers, loggers, and other inhabitants of the ‘hinterland’ have never stayed long in a city. This makes it exceedingly difficult to have an educated opinion.
I like to think that I understand both sides. I grew up in a remote location, on a lake in the forest, with no year-round neighbors. My high school was 50 kilometers (31 miles) away and I had to walk a mile down a dirt road to catch the bus. Then I moved to Toronto for university and lived downtown for four years. I lived and worked off-campus. I married a city boy. Then we moved to a small town of 12,000 people, three hours from Toronto. Now we’re surrounded by farm fields on three sides and Lake Huron on the other, and we know everyone who walks past our house.
So which do I prefer?
In my opinion, small town life wins. While I miss the outdoor activities afforded by the forest and the non-stop excitement of the big city, the small town is where it’s at. Let me explain why.
It’s exceedingly safe.
I’m a vocal supporter of free-range parenting, but a big part of that stems from the fact that we live in a small town where everyone knows each other. Wherever my kids are, there is always someone close by who knows who they are, where they live, and possibly even where they’re going. Some people might find the lack of anonymity creepy, but as a parent, I find it reassuring.
It’s easier to make friends.
In a small town, you continually bump into the same people everywhere you go. You recognize faces at the grocery store, school pickup, the gym, the park, a party. Conversation flows naturally when you’ve already seen someone multiple times and know a little bit about them, simply through observation. There is much social overlap, too, which can get annoying, and everyone has a mutual friend.
Everything is close.
From end to end, my town measures about 5 kilometers (3 miles). This means that I rarely need to drive anywhere because everything is accessible on foot or by bike. Here, within three blocks of my home, there’s a school, library, post office, drugstore, corner store, coffee shop, cinema, dentist, doctor, a couple bars and great restaurants, and my kids’ extra-curricular activities.
It’s good for money management.
When there’s not a lot to spend money on, the money stays in the bank. Everything costs less, from the cost of real estate and the cost of living, to the entertainment budget (mostly for lack of options). We save money by cooking almost all meals from scratch, since takeout and dining options are few and far between. When money is spent, it goes directly into privately-owned main street businesses, since there is no shopping mall here.
I can source the best local food.
Our diet is not as exotic as it would be in the city, but almost everything we eat comes from within 50 kilometers (31 miles). I buy directly from farmers, sourcing the freshest organic seasonal vegetables and fruits, grains, occasional meats and cheese, with minimal packaging.
Better time management
Time is precious, and here there is no traffic, a minimal commute time for my husband’s job (20 minutes through farm fields), no waiting for delayed public transit or looking for parking. Because of the close proximity of everything and the fact that there are never line-ups, errands are fast and efficient. Over the years, this adds up to a significant amount of time not spent in transit, freeing it up for other, more worthwhile endeavors.
That sense of community
I think it’s easier to galvanize support for certain projects in a small town because everyone feels invested and connected. I’ve learned this through my work with refugee resettlement. A family of 14 Syrians came to our town last year, and the family has been embraced, adopted, and supported in a way that wouldn’t happen in the city, simply because people wouldn’t know who they are; they would be anonymous faces in a crowd. Here, they’re the equivalent of celebrities, and residents go out of their way to assist them.
At the end of the day, I think it really comes down to putting in time and effort. Once you invest in a place emotionally, then it will start giving back to you, no matter where you are.