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Posted: September 12, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Suburban disconnect threatens sense of community

 

Bradd Shore loves Covington because of weekends like this one. Community weekends. Connected weekends.

Truly public events like the Fuzz Run, the Literacy Festival and the Denny Dobbs Park grand opening are unique to towns, according to Shore. But that sense of community can be lost in an increasingly uburbanized world, where individual privacy and private enterprise are taking over, he said.

Shore studies American life as the director of Emory University's Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, and he’s fascinated by what makes Covington, Covington. He presented some of his findings to community leaders Thursday at The Center as part of a lunch speaker series hosted by The Newton Fund.

Shore compared the ideas of work and home, and public and private between small towns and suburbs, a topic relevant to a Newton County teetering on that dividing line.

He started out by stating some more obvious differences. Small towns are run by centralized city councils, contain many public spaces, like a town square, and offer many public services.

Suburbs tend to have a somewhat disconnected, unincorporated county government, contain many private, commercial areas and have an abundance of private services.

Related to this, Shore talked about the meaning of the world "public." In small towns everyone uses public services and spaces. In suburban areas, "public" often has a stigma attached to it, and those who use public service are stereotyped as being poor.

Not only does suburban life promote privatization of space and services, it also promotes personal privacy. Shore said subdivisions tend to be homogenous and people tend to move from subdivision to subdivision as they advance economically. He said people often choose areas where others are like them, and in many cases subdivisions are designed to keep outsiders away.

Towns, on the other hand, have more integrated neighborhoods, where lifelong residents of all types remain, providing a more diverse population.

One of the most important affects of this, is that residents in towns tend to know more people in their town in multiple ways. They know them from where they live, where they work, where they go to school and church and where they shop. In the suburbs, residents make separate friends at each of those locations, and those friends don’t mix. Also, suburban parents are more dependent on their children’s social lives for their own friends and activities.

Similarly, town residents tend to be involved in several organizations; suburbanites, not so much.

On a more philosophical level, suburban living looks at the home as a refuge from work, whereas town living looks at life as an interconnected experience.

Most of the attendees agreed that the small town experience was superior; hence why they’re Newton County residents. However, Shore said that experience will be eroded if the residents who move to the county continue to be Atlanta-centric commuters, who don’t have the time or interest to become involved in public life.

The group agreed it needed to attract more local jobs and continue to work on the 2050 Plan, which seeks to direct growth in such a way that subdivisions will be prevented and communities will be created.

 

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