Charles Mahron has opened up what I think to be a great, even essential, discussion that fans of localism and sustainability and community of every possible stripe ought to have:

[L]iving in a place is a little like a marriage. There are times, especially early on, when it’s bliss, but there are way more times when it’s simply a lot of work. Marriage–or some form of binding two people together–isn’t an institution that has been around for all recorded history because it is easy. It’s endured because a committed relationship provides benefits–security, support, hopefully love and fulfillment–that are worth the effort….[B]ut being born in a specific place should not be akin to an arranged marriage. It’s okay to leave. If it’s not the right place for you, if the opportunity for you is not there, then go someplace else.

The question of moving or staying put–of learning to love and stick with the where you are, or making the individual choice (whether in response to disaster or curiosity or different priorities or plain opportunity-seeking) to travel elsewhere to find another, perhaps better place–has been a part of the Front Porch Republic discussion from the beginning. FPR founding father (at least in the eyes of some of us) Rod Dreher’s journey back to his hometown of Starhill, and then his departure from there, shaped a huge amount of early discussion on the blog. And, of course, Wendell Berry’s thundering pronouncements about “boomers” and “stickers” and the like have loomed over us all from the beginning. So consider this another iteration of an old argument, as old as modern individualism and as new as the latest struggle over urban design. If you can move, should you?

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Maybe. All of our attachments to our place –family, friends, responsibilities — should be part of our consideration. But in most cases we haven’t made a promise before God and before witnesses, so we probably don’t have that level of commitment to our place.

    When we moved to our current neighborhood from another state, back in the late 70s, we started looking for a church. I favor the idea of joining whatever congregation in our denomination that’s closest to our home rather than shopping for a better one elsewhere. But we hadn’t yet bought a house, either, and one choice would influence the other.

    The pastor of a church we had attended a couple of times stopped by for a visit and suggested we join. I demurred, and he pointed out that there is always the transfer if it doesn’t work. But I told him I figured it was almost like getting married; once we join a church we should stay.

    We joined and bought a house nearby, in that order. The problem is, in a sermon many years later he mentioned what I had said. He didn’t mention my name, of course, but I then knew he remembered, and that at a time when I might have wished for him not to. My original comment wasn’t quite like an oath made before God and witnesses, but close enough. We stayed and are still there.

  2. I moved, in large part because the suburban town where most of my family and friends live didn’t have a lot of potential for raising livestock. I’m passionate about farming, and for a variety of reasons I think I’m particularly suited to it and it to me, but I miss the strong, matter of fact social ties that are only possible between people who live close to each other and share their lives as a matter of course. I fret about depriving both myself and my children of this.

    A more optimistic response has to do with the article you published earlier this week. Perhaps it’s because I’m in an area that used to be overwhelmingly small dairy farms, which have been slowly disappearing for the past four decades, but my old farmer neighbors differ in their outlook from the sort of hard-eyed pragmatism described as commonplace by Wuthnow. By being around and asking a few questions I’ve heard endless stories of loose cows, vicious geese, good dogs, bad dogs, baseball games in the hayfield, long dead friends, snow storms, heat waves, children, wives, suicides, migrations, and lots of bucks that were shot and many more that were almost shot, nearly all of which took place within about a square mile.

    In other words, I live somewhere that has very much been a place in the Wendell Berry sense of the word. Even though I am not from here there’s value in trying keep this farm going, and even if they sometimes think I’m crazy I like to believe my neighbors agree.

  3. Wes Jackson has the answer:

    “Our task is to build cultural fortresses to protect our emerging nativeness. They must be strong enough to hold at bay the powers of consumerism, the powers of greed and envy and pride. We have to call the shopping malls and Wal-Marts what they are: the modern cathedrals of secular materialism. One of the most effective ways for this to come about would be for our universities to assume the awesome responsibility of both validating and educating those who want to be homecomers—not to return, necessarily, to their original home, but to go someplace and dig in and begin the long journey to becoming native.”

  4. To extend the marriage analogy: if you’re seriously asking yourself this question, nine times out of ten the answer is “yes—-you should leave.” Because if you’re asking the question, you’ve reached the end of your limits on lying to yourself about the positive prospects of staying. You’ve been glossing over the facts and postponing the hour of reckoning for quite awhile. And now….it’s time.

    There is a fatal flaw with the marriage analogy—in marriage, both parties are committing to one another. There is a fact of reciprocity. Cities don’t commit to the persons who live in them (and anyone who doubts that is more than welcome to get in a car and drive through the rust belt. I’ll provide you with the itinerary. Hell, if I’m laid off I’ll provide you with the guided tour).

    In fact, formerly-thriving cities of the rust belt are actively abandoning the persons who still live in them, even those who work for them. They went out for that proverbial pack of smokes a few decades ago.

    I don’t have a hometown. My parents did. There’s a few nuclear plants within driving distance, and when I work the shutdowns I stop in the cemetery and say hello to my great-grandparents and grandparents, and leave a shot of amaretto on my mom’s grave. But that’s about it. The grade school I attended to finish the second grade (during a time both my parents were unemployed and we lived with my grandparents) was shut down last year. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. The jobs went a long time before. Heroin is the only growth industry (well, maybe meth too. But mostly heroin).

    This country once had a place for the teeming masses coming through Ellis Island. Now it doesn’t have a place for their grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. We don’t have farms to inherit or hometowns to go back to. We don’t have other countries to immigrate to, either.

    Right now, our mobility is the only thing keeping some semblance of stability in the USA. If we had to stay? It would get really ugly, really quick.

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