Saturday, October 3, 2009

America's coolest small towns

What an interesting travel story on the front page of Yahoo. “America’s Coolest Small Towns” profile exactly that, but what struck me was the language, the definition of what made these towns ‘cool’. The introductory statement is elucidating:

Every now and then, you stumble upon a town that's gotten everything right—great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose. These 10 spots have it all, in perfectly small doses.

The language choices would seem to say that what makes these small towns cool is how well they cater to urban tastes. So the towns are given this grand distinction, not because they are ‘cool’ in and of themselves, but on how well they make urban people feel at home?

Cayucos, California (population 3,000) is described as bucolic but those interviewed are urbanites who relocated there because of its serenity and small town feel.

"We have beautiful beaches and beautiful people," says Christa Hozie, who runs Brown Butter Cookie Company with her sister Traci Nickson; the duo make super-addictive sea-salt-topped cookies. "I came to visit three years ago and thought it was such a magical place," explains Hozie. (emphasis added)

In fact, most of those who are interviewed are transplants or returnees who have created ‘hip’ spots.

While the Western charm is obvious, Tubac's sophistication is a subtler surprise. "People underestimate us," says jeweler Martita Foss, who moved to Tubac last year from southern California to work at the Tubac Center of the Arts, a 4,000-square-foot space for concerts, lectures, and gallery shows. "They may say, 'Oh, it's just an old historic town,' but we're really pretty hip." (Tubac, AZ population 1,900; emphasis added)

Ms. Foss seems to identify with the local population…even though she has only lived there for a year! And the place identity she wants put forth isn’t that of an Old West Town but a hip Old West Town (which would seem oxymoronic). While this is a travel article and those lend themselves to the use of hyperbolic adjectives, the traits of the towns being highlighted are those that would speak to hipsters and those who are being shown as the epitome of their communities are, for the most part, transplanted urbanites.

So are hip urbanites trying to identify with the rural/small town paradigm? Why? Is it because, in that paradigm they are different and therefore worthy of identification? Then does it become a need to be a big fish in a small pond?

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