Why I Visit Smaller Cities

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Recently, I have become increasingly disenchanted with the idea of writing long, report-style urbanist blog posts in this time when so much in our cities is uncertain. Even as I’ve tried to inject humor or creative writing, I can’t help but feel like I am reiterating the same old urbanist jargon that anyone can find on a far more popular site where people actually get paid to do research and travel for stories. So at least for the foreseeable future, I’m going to write about urbanism through the eyes of… umm… well, an urbanist. Instead of writing about cities, I am going to write about my experience with cities and my thoughts on urbanist concepts as a sort of personal reflection on all that I’ve seen and experienced. Let me know what you think 😉

My home city of Rochester features a population of about 200,000 people, surrounded by a county with a population of about three-quarters of a million people. And while these numbers might elicit a yawn-inducing response, Rochester is still big enough to get lost in. Sure, now and then you’re gonna run into a friend, a co-worker, and that guy you met at a party one time that you never wanted to see again. But for the most part, if you want to see and experience a really good chunk of the museums, the sights, the historical centers and late night hot spots, you’re gonna have to commit at least few days.

So when I travel from Rochester to cities like Utica, New York, which features a population that is 30% of Rochester and half the square mileage, the prospect of seeing what there is to see in a day is much less overwhelming. There’s simply less space to traverse, and while there are still outstanding places, businesses, cultural outlets and other amenities, there are fewer of them… which is far more approachable. I can spend 8 hours in a city like Utica and feel like I’ve seen what’s new, what’s old, what the vibe is, and where the history and the narrative is rooted.

And to be clear, there are so many parts in even small cities that no one can fully understand what the dynamic is by simply visiting for a day. I’m simply saying it’s easier to feel like you’ve connected with a smaller city than a larger one. It takes less time to “take it all in.” And maybe most importantly, as someone who feels this way a lot, you don’t feel like you’re overwhelmed by what you weren’t able to see.

When speaking of events, every weekend brings a multitude of happenings in my Rochester, especially during the summer months. In a place like Utica, fewer events mean less stress over choosing which ones to attend. And, if you like running into people (which I do, but a lot of people do not), fewer events mean a greater chance that you are going to spontaneously stumble (sometimes quite literally) upon someone you know.

Since my wife likes to stay closer to home, multi-day trips to random large cities just isn’t something I often do. The last thing I want is for my wife to feel like I am constantly running away. But a quick Saturday Amtrak trip to a smaller city that still has a lot going for it? Yeah, that’s still very much in play. And quite frankly, I think the prospect of occasionally getting rid of me for a day is very much appealing to my better half ;-). So the day trip to a smaller community is usually a better fit for me and my life.

If you like to get your “urban” on and the time-commitment-options of New York, Chicago, Philly, and L.A. (among many others obviously) are the only main course on your travel menu, consider the shorter option of simply exploring that smaller city close by. Maybe you thought it “sucked” 10 years ago when you drove through it… but a city can change dramatically in a decade. Check the county tourism office for ideas and destinations, I promise this is a great first step.

If there’s something I love, it’s walking into work on a Monday morning and telling my peeps about all the fun I had in a place they never imagined would be fun. Try it. I bet you get hooked quick. Need tips or help? Hit me up!