My family just completed a trip to my wife’s hometown and back. I love small towns, even though I have spent most of my life in cities. My youngest asked me what makes it a city? Being the well-traveled writer that I am, I should have made up an answer and left it at that. Instead, I decided to wade into the murky waters of internet question and answer while my youngest daughter found something constructive to do. I thought it would be simple.
Simply put, I thought it would be easy to look up the answer and give my daughter what she deserved, an informed answer. I overestimated the simplicity of the question.
Most sites on the world wide web agree that a city is 50,000 people. Many other sites disagree with that fact or opinion depending on whether you think the site is accurate or not. Since none of the sites agree on anything really, I thought I would open up a chat on the subject. This is the information age, and if you put a question out there, it doesn’t take long to get a number of experts to weigh in with their expertise. I found many people willing to share their insights.
Julii was my first expert on the subject. I know she is an expert because she spells her name like an expert would. Either that or she is the second Jul in her family, which means she comes from a long line of city experts. A “city” that is close to where she lives has 15,000 people and a cathedral. In ancient times, cities were cities if they had cathedrals. Her more modern explanation was that a town could start calling itself a city if a monarch said it could. She said many towns compete annually for this kingly or queenly designation. Julii did not go into specifics about this competition, but I am guessing it is quite exciting.
Aimee had a different take on it. A city is usually defined by its size in comparison to a town. She also mentioned something about churches and infrastructure, like streets, and businesses. All important factors to consider when deciding if the place you are located in is a city or actually a town or maybe a town mimicking a city in order to influence the queen. Many creatures in the insect world are known to do things like this, so Aimee may be onto something.
Jameel agreed with Aimee about the business requirement to be of city status, although he used the term “industry.” I was not sure what differentiated business from industry, and I was even more confused by the need of so many people to have double vowels in their names. I decided to contact the Chamber of Commerce of what I thought was a small town, but Charrlee (Seriously?) said they were a city and not a town. I asked how she was so sure of that. She said, “Well, we have city limits.” I hung up.
Hypothetically, what if my wife’s hometown is declared a city by the homecoming queen or the queen of Watermelon Days? They have zero cathedrals but they do have streets and some of them are paved. Do they qualify as a city? My frustration with the growing gray area between cities and towns was building to a crescendo when my daughter walked into the room.
“I am sorry honey,” I said sadly. “I have not found an answer to your city question but I think I am close. We live in a city, so cities are large. We have a cathedral and streets and industry. Towns are missing at least one of those and probably more and they don’t have a monarchy in place to designate them as a city even if they wanted to. It’s very technical, but we live in a city. Does that make sense?”
She looked at me strangely because by this time she had forgotten the question she had asked in the first place and was wondering what in the world I was talking about. Then, she said something so profound, I was at a loss as to how to respond.
“Daddy, if Omaha is a city, why do you call it your hometown?”
I did what any parent would do in this situation… I announced that everyone was grounded from all electronic devices and there would be no dessert for a month. Why are kids so smart? Why are we as parents so dumb? How can it be a city if it is my hometown? She is brilliant! She gets that from her mother, so I told my wife she was grounded from electronic devices as well. She responded by telling me I was grounded from our room.
Needless to say, my daughters are all eating ice cream right now and my wife is playing candy crush. Upon completing this post, I am banning myself from electronic devices for the evening, well, not the tv, but my brain is fried by the city-town conundrum, so I will end with my take on town vs. city.
If there is a combine (or any other farming implement of irregular size) parked in someone’s yard within “city” limits, then it is a town regardless of whether there is a cathedral or not. If any sidewalks or streets are made of brick (and they are not part of a historical site, special road, or special part of town), then that is a town and not a city. If the new community wellness center shares part of the building with the bar, then it is a town, regardless of the amount of industry located inside the “city” limits.
If over half of the population celebrates something similar to Watermelon Days, Old Settler Days, or Pioneer Days; if you have a celebration for unorthodox food like the Testical Festival; if you have a “city-wide” celebration for a pastry like Kolache Days; or if you have a queen for any of the previous celebrations and her picture is front page news… well, then you are living in a town. AND there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s not about whether or not you have enough people to be a city. It’s about having the right people, and I have found that towns have more of the right people than cities do. It is easy to get caught up in the rat race and the run-a-round in a city. In fact, the bigger the city, the easier it is to get caught up in what doesn’t matter. My advice to all of you is to make your city smaller. Increase your community (those you know more deeply). Take care of those in need. Help others out and slow down. Support and cheer for your local high school. Join a church. Meet your neighbors. Get to know the other parents your children hang out with.
Most importantly, don’t look for answers on the internet. Listen to the wisdom of children. I better get some ice cream before my daughters have finished it all off.