In defence of small towns

We get a bad rap, us small towns. We are always dying, or ageing, or getting shunted “off the grid”.

This week yet another round of economists all but put us in a coffin, nailed it shut, held the memorial service and then left to carry on with their lives.

Unsurprisingly, they all live in Auckland.

So I thought somebody better point out that the corpse is still breathing. Yes, small towns may be a little weak in some places. Sure, there is room for improvement at points. But for heaven’s sake, we’ve got life in us still! In fact, I’ve thought up a list that proves it.

So here we go:

Number 1: We are not all dying. Sure, some of us are, but others are just thriving. Take my little town, Cambridge, for example. There are more newcomers than you can shake a stick at (most of them having seen the light and left Auckland). In fact, so numerous are they that we even have a rush minute these days (and we all hope it never turns into the rush hours that Aucklanders endure every day). There are new suburbs popping up daily (almost) and not a single shop in mainstreet is empty. I even checked to make sure.

Number 2: We are not aging at nearly the rate Aucklanders are. And that is because small towns are where all the young people with brains want to be. Thanks to a little invention called the internet, many of them can work from wherever they want to which is why Raglan looks like a town full of university students. Most of them have actually just graduated, and if they haven’t, they’re so relaxed the wrinkles have to fight to get onto their faces. By the by, that’s another reason we’re not ageing as fast as the big city people – we get cracker jobs with lifestyle thrown in. Yes, that’s right, we are relaxed and happy at the same time.

Number 3: We’re not all weird hippies living off the grid. In fact, I’d wager that the most business-savvy, conventional people are filling up small town NZ. After all, it’s the place to be if you are a young person looking to get into the housing market. And we are eternally grateful to the economists who constantly tell Auckland’s young people that the case for home-ownership is hopeless, instead of encouraging them to look elsewhere. It means less competition for homes where we live. That means that when we do buy, the mortgages are manageable which means – you guess it – yet another reason we’re all ageing well.

I could go on and on and on – about the traffic and travel times, the benefits of knowing local service providers, the ease of getting involved in a community, the access to beautiful bits of New Zealand, but I have a word limit and it is approaching dangerously fast.

So I’ll finish by pointing out that economists are notoriously bad at predicting the future, particularly at predicting deaths (such as the claim, 30 odd years ago, that dairy was a “sunset industry”).

Yes, banks might be pulling out of little towns as fast as they can work out how to, and yes, that is very tough on our wonderful older population, but small towns still have an awful lot going for them.

In fact, I think they have more going for them than the big smoke on its very best day. So don’t get fooled into thinking it is the end of the show just yet.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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