I recently spent time last weekend visiting my daughter, in the small town of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, some 169 miles away from Pittsburgh. It’s a nice vacation away from the hustle-and-bustle of the city. Cows line the sides of the road as you reach the outskirts of town, and every so many foot there’s a billboard reading “Repent!” or “Praise Jesus!” or something of that manner.
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Waynesboro has the feel of a sparsely-populated city as you get closer to the city limits, with a variety of quaint little coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants, and bars dotting the stone sidewalks. I used to live there, and returning is a nice reminder.
It’s this stark contrast between major metropolitan areas and these less-populated towns that hits me the most as we pass the Waynesburger, the town’s signature fast-casual restaurant. I’m suddenly affected by it, and I begin to compare and contrast the differences and similarities between cities and small towns.
The shuffle of pedestrians is non-existent
One thing I love about big cities is that you never want for someone to talk to (if that’s your thing or you’re lonely) when you walk downtown. Waynesboro and other towns I’ve lived in and visited are a different beast entirely.
Obviously this comes from the fact that there are fewer people living there, to begin with, and thus fewer people who have the time to amble the streets. This is a working town, where families make their homes. Some nights are boozy, but for the most part, the nights are short. Even during the day, one or two stragglers is the limit to who you might find.
There’s less to do, so the days are slow and nights are low-key.
One thing about Pittsburgh I wasn’t expecting was the relative sleepiness (compared to cities like New York). As you can figure, Waynesboro and other towns are even sleepier. Residents go to work, come home to their families, and watch TV, or have a couple of beers, and sleep. Wake up and do it all again.
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I wonder how people can do this, to be honest. Even if I lived with my kid, I don’t know that I could handle it. It’s my own personal problem, though. I’m very easily bored, and I find I need constant stimulation – so as not to lose my mind. But then, not everyone is made for rural areas, just as not everyone is made for cities. It’s all up to preference, and that’s just fine.
Agriculture is overpowering.
Replace skyscrapers with farmhouses, and you have an idea of the landscape of towns like Waynesboro. One drawback of city life is its lack of scenery. I mean, I enjoy skyscrapers and industrial monuments, but I don’t know if they have the same emotional power as green trees and pretty pastures.
Regardless, there’s a massive difference in how they affect you. Where people seem so stressed in metropolitan areas, with higher degrees of depression, in rural areas, locals appear much less aggravated and unsettled.
It’s a trade-off with countless benefits, and, honestly, I miss it. Often, I find myself yearning to live in a small town, possibly on a farm raising chickens. Maybe I’ll do this, someday, but for now, I am where I am and that’s good enough. Visiting is refreshing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
The only direction to go is up.
Whereas the populations of many American cities seem to have levelled off (or, in some cases, declined), Waynesboro and other towns are experiencing a rebirth. When I lived there almost a decade ago, the population was already rising.
That was before businesses like coffee shops appeared. With this renaissance, the number of folks calling Waynesboro home seems to be rising even further. And it’s not the only town for which this is the case. Other places are bringing in more hip attractions to encourage folks to move there.
The town I lived in before and after (Clarion, Pennsylvania) set up a brewery along its main street, as have other towns – from what I’ve read. Ironically, Waynesboro doesn’t have one. Yet, at least. Who knows what the future may bring, though. Tomorrow is another day, and things can change at a moment’s notice.
Small towns may seem easier to live in, but the truth isn’t necessarily that simple.
This wouldn’t be a complete list without a downside, and, the truth is, despite appearing less stressful, rural areas aren’t necessarily more livable than cities.
For one thing, while metropolitan areas have more crime, this is only the case because there are more people. The chance of anything happening increases with the number of people living in a given location. This is what obvious to anybody.
But violent crime such as murder does still happen. And even before this, small towns can (and often are) more stressful for people who don’t fit in. Friends can be harder to make if you didn’t go to high school or live there much of your life. In this respect, cities are by far easier places to make your home in.
And then there’s the financial aspect. A job isn’t guaranteed, and the cost of living seems to be going up everywhere. But, overall, places like Waynesboro do appear more livable than others.
Well, there we are. Five ways small towns and cities differ. If you live in a rural area or a city, you can probably figure there are plenty of differences. That said, these are a few of the ones I picked up on during my recent trip out of Pittsburgh.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.