We took a trip recently down from Cape Carteret, NC to Murrells Inlet, SC.
It was an interesting trip from a lot of perspectives.
Most importantly it was a confirmation that we made the right decision when we moved to western Carteret County.
It is probably no news to anyone that small town America is challenged these days with the increasing urbanization of our countryside. The small town, Lewisville, NC, where I grew up in the fifties and sixties does not resemble the place that I remember.
Even the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia where I spent the early seventies is changing.
Our trip down to South Carolina reminded me that we could have wall to wall high rise developments here on the Crystal Coast like there is in Myrtle Beach. Fortunately that does not appear to be a near term danger.
As we were driving back from South Carolina, I thought about the things that I love about the Crystal Coast. I like to use the term "small town feel" to describe what make here.
Yet when I talk about the small town feel or life, what does that really mean?
- Above all I believe it is the opportunity to interact with and get to know a group of people who have somewhat common interests because they live in a certain area that ties people together.
- Being bound together by that sense of place and common interests creates a sense of community which drives certain behaviors that you might not see in a more urban world. People actually care about what happens to each other.
- In a very uncertain world, that sense of community and provides both an emotional and a real safety net.
- While urban areas tend to overwhelm their environment, small towns tend to be part of the environment. If you aren't closed up in a high rise tower, you might care more about the world at your doorstep.
- Small towns that give me the right vibes are places that still own their own soul. They mostly have businesses owned by the people that live there.
- Most importantly real small towns are populated mostly by people that make it their home not the spot that they occasionally visit.
I have no illusion that small towns are utopia. I have lived in at least one small town that was not a pleasant experience for an outsider. There has to be the right mix between locals and transplants to create an environment where the best of both worlds can survive.
If the outsiders and developers take over, you can end up with wall to wall high rises along the beach. If only the locals rule, you can end up with a place hostile to newcomers or any change. Neither would be a fun place to live.
So what protects that little section of the Southern Outer Banks where we live? Of course I am only guessing, but I suspect being a little off the beaten bath helps. I also think having an early migration of full time residents from the outside set the tone of accepting newcomers.
Beyond that I suspect the fact that there is no large city in the area has also made a difference.
Finally somehow I think the area has been self selecting. The people who have come to the area are here because they appreciate the towns and villages for what they are, rather than what they might be.
Our little patch of heaven is to a certain extent a land of boaters, fishermen, and people who enjoy walking mostly empty beaches.
For that reason the area has stayed a spot that caters to those kind people.
And that turns out to be fine with me. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to live in area where there are still real fishermen and where the business person you talk to is often the owner. It is neat to be a place where history is appreciated without having it take over your life.
It is good to see an environment where people can start small businesses and sometimes succeed. It is nice seeing a mix of old and young people interact in a positive manner in the many area festivals.
While no place is perfect, this one works pretty well for the time being. I hope we can keep the balance.
While development will continue to encroach on the area, I remain hopeful that we can preserve these last few remaining small towns. I hope our love does not kill them.
They just might be irreplaceable.