Monday, October 5, 2009

Stanley Fish on a rural place that thrives by being urban

Read Stanley Fish's post on Andes, New York, population 1,356, here. Fish writes that the town "flourishes against all odds" and that he's trying to figure out why. In fact, once he fully describes Andes, the "why" is easy to see.

That revelation is not, however, in Fish's initial description of the Delaware County town in the Catskills. His initial comments highlight the sorts of economic and demographic challenges facing rural towns across the country:
The decline of farming and absence of any light manufacturing means that there are few jobs and young people move away as soon as they can. ... And Andes is just far enough away from the city to make it an unlikely destination for an impromptu Sunday drive.
Still, the New York Post listed Andes 38th in its top 100 week-end destinations this spring, characterizing Andes as "cosmopolitan," but also "quiet and funky," and the "place to see the Catskills of your childhood."

Fish's explanation of the Post's choice of modifiers for Andes reminds of the recent post about America's Coolest Small Towns. In fact, after reading that post, I can hardly believe Andes didn't make that list, especially given Fish's description of the town's amenities:
two serious art galleries, nine antique and craft shops, a restored mansion originally built by a lieutenant governor of the state, a beautiful park designed and built by a lifelong resident who is also a noted painter, a renovated historic tavern, a handsome 19th century hotel and dining room, a chic farmers’ market, a modestly named “basket shop” that sells (among many other wondrous things) stunning Indian kilim rugs for less than $400, and a restaurant that, because it is part of the slow-food movement, buys local and offers gourmet cheese and wines, high-end olive oil and absolutely real croissants.

There is also a general store that is a grocery, a pizza place, a baker and a gas station, and threatens to become a Mexican restaurant; a bank, a town swimming pool, two realtors, a school with graduating classes of six or seven, a post office, two tennis courts, a library, an international charity, a masseuse, a tea shop, a vintage clothing store and more artists than you can shake a stick at.
Fish asks, "What more could you want?" after noting the town's small population and the dearth of traffic and crime. What more, indeed, if you're a urbanite looking for a faux rural experience? or rural gentrification in the northeast? (Fish notes that Kelsey Grammer, Yoko Ono and Dan Rather have homes in or near Andes).

Interestingly, Fish refers to Delaware County as "impoverished." A quick Census Bureau check, however, reveals that Delaware County's poverty rate is 14.2%, which is less than half a percentage point higher than the state poverty rate, 13.8%, and just one point higher than the national rate. Presumably, then, Fish offers this "impoverished" modifier for Delaware County to help distinguish Andes from its less salubrious environs. Compared to truly high poverty and persistent poverty counties, however, Delaware County would seem to be in good shape.

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