Saturday, November 7, 2015

Drawbridge Mentality Strikes Again

I'm not going to address an issue of vital national interest, at least not in this post. Instead, I'm going to address an issue of vital local interest (though it applies all across America...or at least rural and semi-rural America).

What is it that I find so compelling that I feel the need to express it here? What drives me to tackle this subject...yet again?

Personal experience.

On more than one occasion over the past 13 years of blogging I have written about life in a small town along with the ups and downs that go with it. One of the more insidious factors that can have negative effects on any small town is what I call drawbridge mentality. It can be a complex subject, so rather than boring everyone with a long and convoluted definition of the term, let me try to simplify it for you and explain it thus:

It is an attitude most often held by newcomers to a town that now that they have found their perfect little piece of Americana, they want to 'raise the drawbridge', let no one else in, and most often, don't want there to be any change ever. Call it a more subtle version of “I got mine, buddy, so screw you!”

While this is an attitude most often held by newcomers, it isn't limited just to them as I've seen a number of towns where life-long residents fall into that same trap. I know of at least one town down in southwestern New Hampshire where the residents have done that and now they wonder why no new families are moving in, why their elementary school is closing, and why what few businesses that used to be located in town have either closed their doors or relocated to another town.

I mentioned earlier that personal experience has driven me to address this topic, in this case a battle here in my little home town that pits a newcomer (the family has only been here for a few years) against a local business that has been run by the same family for generations. This in turn reminded me of a situation in a small town northwest of here where I once resided where a retired couple bought their 'dream home' near the town green.

Not once did they give any thought to the working farm that was across the road from them...until their first spring in their new home when the farm owners started their annual preparations for the coming growing season. Between removing the winter crop of rocks from the fields, plowing, seeding, fertilizing, and a lengthy list of other activities that take place on a working farm, there was noise and interesting 'aromas' emanating from the farm, something to which they took exception. It didn't matter to them that the farm had been in the same family and operating since the late 1700's, they wanted all of the activities that bothered them to stop. It didn't matter to them that the farm was the family's livelihood, how they made their living. They wanted their “peace and quiet” and were willing to do anything to get it. However they got nowhere with their complaints and found no sympathy in the town because they were, after all, flatlanders. They even made threats to sue, but from my understanding they couldn't find a lawyer willing to take their case because they all knew it was a loser right out of the gate.

In the end they stopped trying to shut down the farm operation and eventually settled in, acclimating to their new environs. I'd like to think they came to the point where they rarely even noticed the farm operations anymore...or perhaps they just shut off their hearing aids.

This situation has occurred in one form or another in small towns all across America. It's disheartening, disruptive, and at times, destructive.

The only other type of behavior that can cause havoc in small towns are when newcomers decide they want the same services and amenities to be made available as the place they fled, finding that small town life isn't everything they thought it would be. If they succeed they then complain about how much their property taxes have gone up, not making the connection between increased services/amenities and increased taxes. The level of this type of disconnect can be amazing, even when it is pointed out to them that they are the cause of the constantly rising property taxes.

I am not one who believes any town can become static and survive just as I do not believe a town's character can survive if it becomes just another clone of the places everyone has left. Towns will change with time. They always do. The towns that survive adapt with the times and do well if they can make any necessary changes while also maintaining its character. It's not easy, but it can be done and has been done. It's also worthwhile.

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