I recently read an article by Kathleen Parker, a columnist for the Washington Post and now co-host on CNN’s new talk show, Parker/Spitzer with Elliot Spitzer. I gave up Jeopardy to watch the first program, and I liked it. It was a relief to listen to civil conversations about politics between people who try not to interrupt each other. I enjoyed the guests, especially the talented screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. There were too many others for my taste and the program seemed geared to people with attention deficit syndrome, but Ms. Parker is smart, engaging and charming, and once Elliot Spitzer slows down and controls his hyperactive brain, his intelligence and knowledge can be appreciated.
But the column I am referring to was comparing living in a big city to growing up in a small town in the South. Presently living part-time in New York City she is annoyed with the bureaucratic laws and rules as opposed to the freedom and self-regulation of a small town. There are many people living in rural towns in Costa Rica who would agree with her.
I, too, grew up in a small town, actually, a village, moved to a town and then to a city. And she is right: The fewer the people, the fewer the regulations and rules of how to behave without infringing upon the rights of others. What she didn’t say was that in small towns the neighbors and what we used to call “Nosey Parkers” perform the same duties of rules and regulations. The rules they enforce may be different – having more to do with sexual and moral behavior than with lighting fires or jay walking or infringing upon the rights of others.
Speaking politically, she thinks the new dichotomy will not be Republican and Democrat but high-density versus low-density. Another writer claims the new paradigm is the individual and the corporation. (the ‘small is beautiful’ group versus the ‘big is powerful’ group.) Another may be between the moderates and the fundamentalists.
But back to big cities and small towns. I have met many people in Costa Rica who live in small towns and either dread the thought of coming to San José because they think it is ugly, dangerous and dirty, or refuse to visit it in the first place because they are simply afraid. I am uncomfortable in many small towns in Costa Rica because I think there are snakes and bugs, if not in the homes, lurking outside waiting to get in. They don’t like the crowds and bustle of the city; I fear the sameness of a small town.
Most small towns have populations that are homogenous with perhaps two main ethnic groups and languages, and families that have lived there for several generations and everyone knowing what the culture is. Big cities are different. People from different ethnic groups, cultures, languages and religions are expected to get along. And there are always newcomers, including small town people hoping to make their fortunes in the big city.
When Ms Parker says, “. . . the more people cram themselves into small spaces, the more government will be involved in their lives.” I agree, hoping she remembers that the government is the collective us. But times have changed, too. Some 40 or 50 years ago a family of eight living in a home with one bathroom and one car had more rules about sharing than today’s family of three or four with more bathrooms and cars.
I no longer live in a city or in a small town. According to my son I live in the suburbs. Since it is a residential neighborhood and I cannot walk to the center of town, I guess he is right. If suburbs, were created to furnish the best of both worlds – country living with city amenities nearby — I think they have failed. A population needs a community to succeed. Most suburbanites are commuters. They depend upon elsewhere for their subsistence, whether it be jobs or groceries. People who live in cities or towns meet one another in the pursuit of subsistence and thus have a community-in-waiting
Meanwhile, I will continue to watch Parker/Spitzer (Note, she never interrupted me once.) They are a prime example that a big city slicker from the North and a small town belle from the South can get along.