We’ve talked to a lot of people from the Midwest who have migrated to mostly bigger cities on the West Coast. We’ve been asking them about their new lives and whether they would ever return. Nearly all have said no, they don’t want to move back. They’ve found a life they’re really happy with, and they feel increasingly out of step with the culture and values back home. When we ask them if there is anything they miss, the answers range from “not a damn thing” to “grass and trees” to “cashew chicken.” The most common pattern in the responses is what we’re calling space and time. There seems to be an occasional yearning for a place less crowded, and a pace that isn’t so frantic.
There was a notable exception to this response. When we visited our friends, Mallory and Mark in Oakland, we posed this question to them. Mallory said* she doesn’t miss the space and time, because having more room and a less frantic schedule promotes ownership and entitlement.
To explore this idea more fully, you need to know that real estate in places like L.A., the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, etc. is fucking insane. Sorry, but it’s fucking insane. A two-bedroom starter home in fair condition runs about a half million in some of those places. We saw houses near San Francisco – that would sell for $75K in Springfield – priced at $700-800K. Houses in the Pacific Northwest that are similar to the one we sold last year seem to run between $800K and $1.2 million. Mallory (and others) pointed out the obvious: You can’t buy real estate out there, unless you’re part of the 1%…or at least, say, the 5%. So, most people are renters. Tenants, not owners.
Being a tenant is different than being an owner. It’s fair to say tenancy carries with it a humility, a willful loss of control. Ownership fosters a supervisory posture, an awareness of jurisdiction and control – what is “mine,” and what is not yours.
Mallory and Mark went on to point out that, at least in Oakland, tolerance of diversity is a normal way of life, not a noble decision. When you walk out your door, you are immersed in cultural difference, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The structure of the diversity creates assumptions that govern your discourse and values. You’re not choosing to be broad-minded so much as you are shaped by the circumstances around you to be multicultural. If you don’t adapt, you don’t survive. You certainly don’t prosper.
Also, the pace of things is fast. Not just for pedestrians and traffic, but for changes and ideas. The structure of the world around you demands you keep up. So, you become more mindful and aware; and, again, the pace is not yours. You aren’t setting the rhythm, you are part of a larger flow. You have to submit to something bigger and more complex than you.
I think what we learned from Mallory and Mark helped us understand part of the urban-rural split we are seeing in our values and politics. People in rural areas and smaller cities and towns aren’t better or worse people, they just have more choices. They have the opportunity for more control. And, maybe when we aren’t forced to adapt to the tempo and texture of what’s around us, we’re just less likely to do it. We don’t have to, so we don’t. Then we feel entitled to our beliefs and behaviors, since they are choices we are making amidst our spacious and slower environment.
Many have argued that the urban-rural split is THE defining division in our country. It’s hard to disagree. Look at virtually every state, red or blue, and you’ll see a tremendous divide between the culture and discourse of the cities and the less populated areas. We’ve seen it in our travels. You get 30 miles out of the city and you see a Confederate flag or a hand-painted sign extolling Hillary’s criminal status. You don’t see those things in the cities.
We’re not sure what can be done about this divide. It runs deep, and the cities we’ve been in are growing at exponential, almost unsustainable rates, making the divide more dramatic.
What do you think?
*We did our best to faithfully represent Mallory’s perspective. We’ve been talking about this idea a lot, and we may have created a reality here that didn’t really happen. Our apologies to Mallory (and Mark) if that’s the case.