Bonnie Hauser, president of the grassroots organization Orange County Voice, sends this holiday greeting from New England:
This year, and every year, I spend Christmas in western Massachusetts (“the Berkshires seem dreamlike on account of their frosting…”). A few inches of snow, a little sun, and a brisk 30 degrees – warm for the area, just right for my North Carolina tolerance.
This year, more than ever, I found myself struck by how settled my surroundings truly were. Stodgy? No. Simply a place that seemed to know exactly who it was and to be content with it all.
Small, even tiny town centers surrounded by New England clapboard houses with shutters and holiday candles in windows. The towns had lights, restaurants, small shops. Everyone knows everyone, and the feeling everywhere is that “we’re in this together.”
I couldn’t help but notice the lack of ancillary town centers. No Meadowmonts or Southern Villages or Obey Creeks to cannibalize downtown goings on. Why would there be? After all, people went downtown regularly for the change of scenery and to learn what was going on locally. We were amazed to learn that an incapacitating flat tire, which forced us to abandon our car, made the morning news cycle.
The area is marked by a stark lack of ambition. In addition to their own self-interest, everyone seems committed to serve their neighbors, the town, the community. Yes, it’s stressful, because the commitment carries an obligation to your own friends and families and to be worthy of a community that will certainly transcend your meager lifetime. I saw the stress in my friends who were planning a local concert to raise money for much-needed improvements to the town hall.
There was no soaring rhetoric about economic development or buying locally. No massive developers or major interest in massive development. (Yes, there’s a buzz about a few condominiums going on the back of the Card Lake Inn.) The locals trust their planning boards – after all, they know who serves, and there is widespread agreement about their shared future. Local businesses are essential to the vitality of the community, so no one needs to be reminded to support them. And it all comes with a spirit of respect and belonging.
So I start the new year wondering if Chapel Hill and Orange County will ever settle into our own clarity of self. Who will hold the vision? And will our leaders and our communities – rather than developers – work together to assure that the vision remains sustainable for the long haul?
– Bonnie Hauser
Contact Bonnie at bonnie@OrangeCountyVoice.org.