Articulating a vision for your locale

A while ago I wrote a post about local cultures, and why an artist might want to build up the culture in a smaller locale rather than transplanting to a larger cultural center. At the time I wrote it, and still later on, I never felt like I really got to the point of what I wanted to say in that post. I have a few more notes on the topic I want to flesh out, so I’m going to give it another go here.

As I mentioned in the previous post, people like to move to cities, especially artists, and a big reason for many of them is the culture. In a slightly broader sense, I might connect it to the innate human desire for a sense of narrative direction. Cities often have many strong narratives attached to them. Consider how many associations come to mind when you think of New York City: you might think of Broadway, or its reputation for fast-paced living, or the countless movements and subcultures birthed there. These are all elements in the city’s mythology that may serve as entry points for people to start seeing themselves within New York’s narrative, and consequently wishing to visit or move there.

Photo credit: Hugo

By contrast, smaller cities and towns do not necessarily have these narratives surrounding them. Some do, and they often make for good tourism. Many others, recognizing the value in these narratives for drawing tourists and denizens, try to build them up. A lot of times they just struggle to offer anything that would differentiate them from the next town over. Small towns may often have a more relaxed pace of life and a friendlier, closer-knit atmosphere going for them. But those things could describe so many towns that they’re not useful in giving an outsider a strong vision of what life is like there.

Here’s the thing, though: these towns are, generally speaking, not truly lacking the raw material for such a vision. There are all sorts of unique things happening everywhere when you zoom in. Furthermore, I believe every place really does have its own vibe, its own genius loci, the elusive quality that the narratives in question merely serve as a proxy for.

In cities, the vibe is easier to tune in to because you’ve already filled your head with the city’s stories, which prime you for it. For places with less built-in narrative, it takes time (possibly years) and a certain attention to tune in, but if you make the commitment, the genius loci is there waiting for you.

What’s even more challening, as an artist, is to then turn outward and try to share this vision with outsiders. It’s not something one person can do, either; I think it probably takes multiple contributors all working from their own vision and trying to build a shared vision over time. But I think it’s exactly this work that is the basis of meaningful and distinct local cultures.

Do you live in a large city or a small town, or something else? What are the narratives surrounding the place you live? Do you know the vibe of the place you live? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​