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Preserving Small Towns in America

Main Street Julian, CA
This photo is copyright of Jennifer Gutierrez. © 2019 - 2022 by Jennifer Gutierrez.

American small towns have played a vital part in our country's history.

In some ways, there seems to be a movement to depopulate small towns. In other ways, though, the mass exodus from California cities, in addition to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, is causing low-population areas to grow at an exponential rate.

Nature, slower pace of life, cleanliness, peacefulness, and friendliness are just a handful of reasons the rural communities are so desirable.

For these sought-after benefits to exist, residents and visitors must make a conscious effort to preserve them. These customs aren’t just an effort to preserve, however—they are also basic signs of respect for nature and your neighbors. Rural residents choose to live where they do because they like the way things are. Quite frankly, they like to do things exactly that way and want it to stay so. Contributing to the community is not the same as trying to change it. There’s a big difference between the two.

Growth is fundamental in the revitalization of America’s small towns. Without growth, small towns become ghost towns. Without preservation, small towns become small cities, and eventually big cities.

Let’s talk about how we can preserve small towns while still contributing to the community.

Learn to Live Among the Wildlife

Along with gaining new human neighbors, a move outside city limits also means you obtain new animal neighbors. Residents have to learn to live with the wildlife.

This is a constant balancing act between staying safe and preserving the natural ecosystem. Rural residents share the land—and sometimes the road—with wildlife. In our modern-day, urban culture, it is customary to exterminate animals, but in the mountains, we must take into consideration how extermination will affect the entire ecosystem. It is possible for humans and animals to coexist as long as you are willing to make a few lifestyle changes.

As a matter of fact, I have not had too many negative disputes with wildlife in San Diego County. There have been a few times when we needed to address infestations and unwanted guests. For the most part, we leave the animals alone. There are many simple changes that help reduce negative animal encounters. You can learn more about how to live among the wildlife here.

Keep the Night Sky Dark

Light pollution is a real phenomenon. No matter where you live, urban or rural, we all need to take the initiative to reduce the problem rather than contributing to it.

You can begin by simply turning off outdoor lights when you aren’t using them. Motion-sensor lights are a great solution. Buying light fixtures approved by the International Dark Sky Association or replacing white lights with red lights are other options. Whenever you get a chance, enjoy the beautiful night sky.

Honor Diversity in All Its Forms

When we think of diversity, race is usually the first thing that pops into our heads. Small towns have a reputation for lacking diversity. In some instances, this is an aspect that has lots of room for improvement. Racial diversity in rural areas will depend on the specific community.

In my community, we have a very small African-American and Asian-American community. We do, however, have large Hispanic and Native American populations, something you don’t find in most cities.

Diversity also comes in other forms.

In small towns, diversity comes in the forms of socioeconomic classes, occupations, artistic abilities, religion, and age. All of these attributes and more are what make small towns so novel. What do you bring to the table?

Preserve the Tranquility

Having grown up in a small town, I’ve never understood why visitors always comment on how tranquil the region is. In my head, I was always like, What do you mean, it is peaceful? There’s tons of small-town drama. Everywhere I turn, I see insufficiencies that need to be filled. Not to mention all the noise that comes with living a normal day-to-day life.

Then, on an unplugged Julian staycation, I realized that when I removed myself from my routine activities, my hometown really is a peaceful environment. It was so quiet I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.

After this experience, I suddenly became aware of man-made noise. Noise triggers unconscious habits for me. I naturally look out the window every time a car drives past my house. Why? Because I want to make sure it’s not some creepo. I remembered all the conversations in town about the new neighbor with a dog that barks through the night or the once-in-a-blue moon loud parties that occur. I was so used to the peace that I was only aware of its absence.

The point is that small towns have a peaceful ambiance because residents don’t make noise pollution. We don’t drive loud cars. When in residential areas, we drive slowly. Pet owners with yappy dogs receive visits from neighbors. Blasting music is not tolerated. Construction is uncommon. Quiet hours are highly respected. Making noise is a sure way to get neighbors up in arms. Don’t be the loud apple.

Leave No Trace

Our low-population areas are beautiful and home to lots of wildlife. In order to keep the land clean, we don’t litter; we pick up any trash we see and maintain our yards. It's always a very sad sight to see when natural spaces are covered in trash. There are no local government entities to clean up after everyone. Additionally, there is no government funding for disposing of the trash left behind.

So small-town residents clean up after themselves because it's the right thing to do. It’s up to private citizens to maintain a clean environment for the animals and the generations to come. Anyone who litters can be fined up to $1,000 and community service (see the law here). Don’t be trashy.

Adapt to Small-Town Culture

The culture is friendly because we are friendly and neighborly. It’s done with intention and genuine interest in one another. In a small-town culture, when we pass by anyone, we greet them in one form or another. When asking someone how they are, we sincerely care about their well-being.

Be trustworthy. Look out for neighbors. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. A big part of the culture is being neighborly, so much so that it’s expected.

Preserve the Ambiance and Charm

Small towns are renowned for their charm. This is not by coincidence but rather a great deal of time and commitment. Residents choose restoration of the historical buildings over demolition. Map-dot towns are charming because bright paint colors are avoided, chain-link fencing isn’t installed, and improvements are designed to fit in with the ambiance of the community. No sore thumbs.

Keep Things Local

Being loyal to local businesses is vital to the survival of small towns across America. Independent business owners are vested community members who care about the well-being of the community. The more the community supports local, the greater the variety of products business owners will be able to carry.

Buying local goods and services secures our neighbors’ jobs. When locals have a source of income, they can contribute to the local economy by being loyal to other local businesses and donating to the needs of the community. The more money in the local economy, the better it is for everyone. When you spend money in a mom-and-pop place, you are increasing the community’s self-reliance, which ultimately gives the local economy a chance to thrive. It’s amazing how money spent in the local economy multiplies throughout.

As small-town residents gain financial stability, they are able to invest more into the community by buying real estate and businesses. This allows the community to grow from within. Vested community members care about the well-being of the community, not just dollar signs. When locals do not financially invest in the community, outside investors do. The preservation of American small towns depends on residents being loyal to local businesses, investing in the local economy, and sustaining local regulatory control.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Okay, folks, a few simple tweaks can make a lasting ripple effect in your community. We, the people, have the power to preserve the small-town culture and atmosphere. I love how effective grassroots movements are. I hope that this post sparked some new ideas and injected creativity into you how you can become part of the solution!


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