What big cities can learn from small towns … and vice versa

Photo: Generic small-town USA — not Oglethorpe, Georgia (which is much smaller)

In the early 1980s, my dad had enough with living in the city. He’d grown up in the country, surrounded by farms, farm animals and farm folks. The land was green and the air was clean.

But in the 1980s, the place we were living had too many paved streets, too much traffic, too many people, too many traffic lights and too much noise. We lived in Oglethorpe, Georgia, with its one traffic light and 1,000 residents — or, as my dad saw it, way too many.

I guess it’s all relative.

A former homebuilder, he bought a plot of land outside the Oglethorpe city limits to build a new home but got bogged down in other business and finally resigned himself to life in the big city of Oglethorpe.

That’s where I grew up. As a kid, I swore that I’d never live in a small town again — but mainly because I hated cutting grass. Then I visited a bunch of big cities. Never mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I still hate cutting grass at my house in the big/small town of Perry, Georgia (population 24,000-plus). However, I can’t stomach living in the big city. Even Perry is way too gigantic for me, actually. Come to think of it, Oglethorpe is a bit too much on the bustling side for me.

Oh, God! My wife is right! I do sound like my dad!

I’ve been to towns big and small across the state of Georgia. I’ve lived in one of the bigger cities, Columbus, and I’ve been to Atlanta way too many times. There are some great attractions there, and the airport is pretty nice compared to others, but I can’t stand the traffic and also get tired of smelling marijuana everywhere. Chew a gummy, folks!

I’ve been to cities and towns across America and seen the differences, good and bad. Even when my nonprofit work has taken me to small, rural villages in countries like Ghana, Nicaragua and El Salvador, I still had to start those trips by landing in the big cities of Accra (2.7 million), Managua (1.1 million) and San Salvador (1.2 million). The small villages were more my style.

I’ve seen enough to know that whether I live in Georgia, the U.S., Africa or Central America, I want to live in a small town — or preferably about 20 acres 5 miles outside of the small town … with a pond, a lot of trees, and a black lab named Spot F. Tucker Ph.D. (Phun Dawg). If you prefer big cites, that’s fine with me. To each their own. There are certainly many things small towns could learn from big cities, but there are also things big cities could learn from small towns. You just have to look at the pros and cons of each. Neither is utopia.

  • There are more dining options in the big city — although I still believe small towns have better eatin’ joints. (Perhaps not for folks who like to eat tiny portions in the dark while wearing ties but definitely for real folks who like hearty meals that don’t cost a fortune.) And if you can’t smell the grease from a half-mile away, as you can with most small-town eatin’ joints, it shouldn’t be considered a dining option in my always correct opinion.
  • There are more things to do in the big city — museums, sports arenas, concert halls, theaters, bowling alleys, axe-throwing establishments and parks. In small towns, we have more nothing to do, which gives folks time to think and time to dream. And we don’t throw axes unless your buddy 20 feet away needs to chop some wood — or when Ethel Sue combines those gummies with her cough syrup at the same time Billy Bob comes home late from the pool hall. “Bull’s-eye, you jerk!”
  • Small towns generally have lower crime rates. It’s not because we have have 200 guys toting shotguns and rope while hyped up on a Jason Aldean tune. It’s because big cities have more people and more targets. We can barely get enough folks together in a small town for a family reunion, much less a riot. And criminals generally prefer to loot jewelry and electronics stores more than the local IGA. Of course, I can think of a few years back home when there were murders and bank robberies and such. If Fox News had brought their anecdotal approach to journalism to Oglethorpe back then, they would have used those isolated incidents to justify this crawl on their shows: OGLETHORPE IN CHAOS AS OUT-OF-CONTROL CRIME WAVE GRIPS ONCE-PEACEFUL COMMUNITY while talking about it nonstop.
  • Big cities do a better job with diversity. Most small towns have taken small steps forward in that area, but gay folks, interracial couples and those who worship differently than the masses (or not at all) still get a lot of stares, sneers and sometimes jeers. Big cities have some bigots, too, but per capita I suspect they have fewer than small towns. Big cities have drag shows, while small towns have illegal drag races. Neither are for me, but, again, to each their own.
  • Big cities always talk about growth. They always “need” to grow. They’ll use terms like “smart growth” but not actually practice it or understand that sometimes the smartest growth is actually contraction. Focus on growing the quality of life instead of just the population, traffic and tax base. Small town folks know there’s such a thing as getting “too big for your britches.”
  • It’s not hard to find elbow room or quiet in a small town — well, except when those Green boys came back to Oglethorpe from a shopping trip in Phenix City, Alabama, with bags of fireworks that were then-illegal in Georgia. Not only do big cities get too big for their britches, but those britches get awfully crowded and tight. And nobody outside of Conway Twitty likes tight-fitting jeans.
  • And the best small towns have one high school team that the entire community rallies around, especially on a fall Friday night. And when one of those kids goes on to sign a college scholarship with a little junior college or a big university or every now and then gets into professional sports, they are celebrated like superstars but always welcomed home like old friends. There have been several like that from my alma mater, Macon County High School, including Roquan Smith, now of the Baltimore Ravens. Even those of us who don’t really know Roquan still claim him as one of our own. And he has made us proud with his work on and off the field. And on his last trip home, he made sure to visit my favorite eatin’ joint, Troy’s Snack Shack, so he still has good taste.

There are many more pros and cons of small towns and big cities, and I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section below. The main pro for me, though, is peace and quiet. And until I win the MegaMillions and can buy a tiny private island in the Caribbean, I’ll just have to find my peace and quiet in a small town.

And that’s OK by me.


When it comes to songs & videos about small towns, I believe this one does a better job of capturing the spirit than a recent more controversial one:

What do you think about this?