The Power of Place

Rebecca Thorman of Modite recently posted about her connection to her city of Madison, Wisconsin. (A great town!) My take-away from her post and the ensuing conversation: Gen-Y and beyond will choose a place to live before they make other career choices.

John Leland, reporting for the NY Times, writes about resort towns in Colorado being colonized by people with established careers (read Boomers), resulting in culture clashes.

I’m writing this post in a small resort town in Northern Minnesota; my mom’s family has vacationed here since the 1940s, and I’ve been coming up since my childhood, too. On and off for the past 10 years or so, I’ve worked remotely from up here. I read the local papers from my homebase in NYC and try to stay on top of the local politics and happenings, I make occasional donations to local causes. But I can’t say that I’m from “around here”.

When I started visiting as an adult in the early 90s, vacation homes of doctors and lawyers from Des Moines and Duluth sat side by side with those of teachers and retired miners from Gilbert and Eveleth. Now property values have skyrocketed, and longtime homeowners have sold family homes because they can’t pay the escalating taxes.

My sense of place: one thing shared by locals and longtime vacationers is an idea (maybe a fantasy) of a way of life that frowns on conspicuous consumption; fixing broken things, rather than tossing and replacing them; leaving a small footprint, and not just in the ecological sense, but in the sense of living quietly. Modestly. (At my grandfather’s place, they’ve been serving dinner on the same dishes since the 1950s.)

I used to say that we were 250 miles from the nearest cappucino. You could barely dial up to get your email. Now, we have DSL and several cute local coffee places that I hope will flourish and thrive in the off-season. (It gets cold up here, and you have to love ice fishing, cross country skiing, or snowmobiling to check it out in the winter. It is amazing. But I digress.)

The past several years have brought people to the area who don’t “get it”. Enormous new homes built on small lots. And even I breach my own fantasy of what “getting it” is: a 30 foot tree leans dangerously close to the garage and has to come down. I asked the guy who will be back with a bucket truck to cut it down garage, “Do you email? I’ll pay you faster if you email me the bill,” he responded, “We’re up here in the sticks.” Fair enough.

(And should I have negotiated the price? It seemed reasonable to me, given the life-threatening nature of the task at hand, and potential for having to draw on his insurance if the tree crushes the garage on the way down. I don’t care if I paid $50 too much. But what is the effect of that sort of attitude, magnified across hundreds of transactions acrosss the local economy?)

Everything we do has an impact. More on my northern Minnesota community later on. Time to get to living in it, for now.

4 thoughts on “The Power of Place

  1. Anne, what a great portrait of your family’s home you provide. I can totally picture it! I just got back from Mexico where I enjoyed iced cappuccinos and internet in the middle of the Chiapan jungle and I was contemplating some of the very same questions you are. Just one question, did you want the tree cutter to email you the bill for the sake of ease, or because you didn’t want the paper trail? -Nancy

  2. Nancy, thanks so much for stopping by! I’m always excited to have a comment on my site, and even nicer to hear about how we connect on these questions.(And to answer your question: it was definitely ease/speed of payment…he didn’t want to give me the bill until after he takes down the tree, maybe not until next month, after I’m gone. No matter where I am, I could print the bill, write a check, and pop it in the mail. I didn’t even think about saving paper, silly me!)Be well, Nancy, and thank you.

  3. Hi, Anne! Thanks so much for linking to my post. Place is so important and I’m glad more people are reflecting on what makes them choose a location. Looking forward to your future posts!Rebecca

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