Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gonna Find Myself, Find Myself A City To Live In

Before I put the Baron on the train for home yesterday, we went on a field trip to fabulous Easton, Pennsylvania.

Easton sits at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. It's the home of Lafayette College (favored by rich kids with bad grades from my high school), and boasts some pretty nice Deco architecture downtown, which is dramatically centered around a square with an impressive Civil War Memorial. Easton is part of three cities in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, that are usually conjoined into one: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton. But, as residents will attest, each of these towns has a flavor and personality distinct from the others.

Easton does not boast a Starbucks, and the coffee places that do grace the downtown area seem to close at 5 p.m. So, the Baron and I sat on a bench in the town square trying to wish a Starbucks into existence.

And then, we had a pretty interesting conversation.

"Imagine," said the Baron, "What this country will be like when gas hits $6.00 a gallon."

If you think about it, that will be good news for places like Easton.

Although there are sighs of an upturn, Easton is one of those cities where everybody moved out during a three week period in 1982 and filled up suburban cul-de-sacs across this great nation of ours. But in the coming post-internal-combustion era fast approaching, folks are gonna want to live in a place where they can walk to get groceries, see a movie, have coffee, hit a bar. But I don't think they'll all be moving to the big city. Not everyone is willing to take on life in NYC-Chicago-LA. So smaller cities, like Easton, Pennsylvania, could see a true resurgence, once the local businesses move out of the office parks and into a building downtown.

Way back when, after I was graduated from college, I was enamored with Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading is built up against the side of a mountain, has some amazing vernacular architecture, and you drive ten minutes outside the city and you're in some pretty splendid nature. And in a smaller city, the problems that all cities contend with--crime, poverty, schools--seem like they could almost be managed. There was a real sense of community in Reading. I knew all the people in town who liked books and music, because once a month or so, when some event happened, we'd all be there. And we traveled in a group, going to see movies, meeting up at Jimmy Kramer's Peanut Bar, field trips to NYC or Philadelphia.

But, alas, when Carpenter Technologies closed, Reading was left without any local economy whatsoever, and the city just went right down the toilet. The last hangers on moved out of the city, there was no more tax base, the schools went to hell, and it all pretty much collapsed.

But in a decade or so, when having a supermarket eight miles away like mine is just ceases to be an option, perhaps there will be a general migration to the Eastons and Readings across this great land of ours, smaller satellite cities, in the orbit of some Big Town offering culture and stuff (and in the case of Easton, commuting daily to NYC for work isn't a big deal).

This discussion raised an issue in my mind that probably wasn't in the Baron's: and will there be a leather bar?

Will leather continue to be big city phenomenon, and folks be forced to give up their lives in the suburbs and move there? Or will things thrive on a smaller scale in these smaller cities?

Anyway, who knows.

But interesting to think about.

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