I started thinking about writing this post last month when I read Tin God by Stacy Green. There was one line in it that threw me. I loved the book, but when I read this line, “Stupid small towns. Less than thirty-thousand people…” I stopped. I remember looking up, then reading it again and the thought went through my head, “That’s a small town? More like a small city.” But, I’ve started to think maybe my idea of what a small town is is a bit skewed. And that all has to do with where I grew up, and really, where I live now(the two aren’t too far apart in distance or population).
My home town, and the one I live in now, are actually considered “boroughs”, not officially a town. Now, according to Wikipedia, “A borough is an administrative division in various countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing township although, in practice, official use of the term varies widely.” I looked a little farther and saw that in Pennsylvania(where I live), it is “a type of municipality comparable to a town”.
My home town, as of 2011 had a population of 996. A 7% decline since 2000. Like I said, small. The land area is 1.44 square miles. The only notable location listed on city-data.com was out local volunteer fire department. Although the last time I was in town, there was a Subway and a Dollar General there now. Also, we have 1 bank, 1 stoplight, and about 5 churches in one block. Also, a library and 2 gas stations. There’s also a hardware store run by my uncle where I worked a couple summers. Maybe I should mention, I’m related to about half the town one way or another. Both sides of my mom’s family are rather large. The biggest city near us is Erie, in the 50,000+ range, then Pittsburgh with over 300,000.
Now my current town(or borough) is a little larger than the one I grew up in. It has a population of 3322 as of 2011, a decline of -4.1% since 2000. It’s a little larger in terms of size as well as population with a land area of 1.87 square miles. City-data.com has the public library(that my daughter’s k-4 class goes to once a month) and this town’s volunteer fire department. There’s 1 bank, with 2 different branches and several churches. We actually don’t live in town, but right outside of it. Our address still puts us there even though we’re actually right across the county line. It’s labeled as a “census-designated place” with a population of 516 in 2010. That increases during the summer when people, mostly from Pittsburgh, come up to “summer cottages”.
One of the closest cities to my hometown is even smaller than that quoted small town from the book with a population of 13645 and land area of 4.35 square miles. Some of the notable locations are: Baldwin Reynolds House Museum and the Meadville Mall. There’s also Allegheny College, a manufacturing institute, a practical nursing program, 6 public elem/middle school, and 2 public high schools. In both my home town and current town, there’s only 1 grade school & 1 high school.
This is where we always did our shopping and went out to eat. The mall is practically non-existent now, I think. K-mart being most of what’s still open there.
Now, where I went to college, Clarion, Pa, I always thought was pretty large. And I would laugh when I heard people, mostly from around Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia areas, refer to it as a small town. There were several restaurants, a mall, a Wal-Mart, the university itself. Didn’t seem small at all to me. Well, as I was doing the research for this article, I found that it has a population of just 5271 and is considered a borough as well. So maybe it’s not quite as large as I thought.
As well as the university, one of the local attractions is Cook Forest State Park, a place I remember camping at when I was growing up.
There’s also 7 different banks and 9 hotels/motels in the town.
As I said, one of the closest bigger cities to us is Erie. This is now where we do most of our shopping and eating out. It has a population of over 100,000 and encompasses 22 square miles. Certainly big enough for me. Some notable locations are the Erie Maritime Museum, Erie Zoo, Millcreek Mall, Presque Isle State Park, Splash Lagoon(indoor water park) and Waldameer Park(an amusement park). There are 10 colleges/universities, 10 public high schools, 10+ public elementary/middle schools, 45 branches of 9 different banks, and 27 hotels/motels.
So, looking over this I can see why my view of a small town may be different than that of someone else. And that in different areas, a small town may be defined differently.
What about you? What do you consider a small town? Is your view different because of where you grew up?