Monday, November 10, 2008

A newcomer's sympathetic perspective on rural gentrification

This item by Inman Majors appeared in the Week in Review section of the New York Times yesterday. It is one of four contributions on different aspects of the election and the electorate from the writers' respective vantage points in various swing states. The piece is titled "Blue Mountains," and the dateline is Waynesboro, Virginia, a micropolitan place with a population of 19,520. Like most of Appalachia, Majors says, his community is "of the traditional Republican ideology of small government and fiscal responsibility," and specifically distances it from the culture wars variety of Republican politics.

Majors lets us know that Waynesboro is undergoing gentrification -- my label, not the author's. Indeed, he describes the gentrification in great detail, acknowledging that he is one of the newcomers who has helped drive up home prices.

Majors tells of driving around Waynesboro the day after the election, observing how hastily the McCain signs had come down, and looking for some "true locals" to talk to. He explains that this means "folks who’d lived in this area for a number of years," and he notes that they are getting harder to find as the town has become a destination for retirees and a bedroom community for Charlottesville. He suggests that most locals left in Waynesboro are working class, the "people who came to repair the air-conditioner, check for termites or replace a sewer line." The "locals" Majors found were in that category -- his neighbor and a co-worker at an auto repair shop. He reports part of the exchange with them.

To be honest, they didn’t seem that disappointed or surprised by the election. Both blamed the current president and the economy for the outcome, and blamed them in that particular order.

* * *

I thought how odd it must feel to see your town and the landscape around it change so drastically in a decade’s time.

Majors discusses not only the changes in the place's physical landscape, such as the disappearance of farmland, but also the waning influence of the "true locals."

The essence of the piece is that rural gentrification was changing Virginia long before Obama came along, and Majors writes with great sensitivity of what this demographic shift means for old-timers there. Thanks to Majors for these compassionate musings about Waynesboro's true locals and, by extension, to so many like them in non-metropolitan places around the country.

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