After being away from Pullman all summer, it took me a while to readjust to its rural setting. I had forgotten Pullman’s charm and weaknesses. Three months away can change your perspectives drastically.
Even though I grew up in the city, I had come to really enjoy Pullman’s laidback and small-town feel when I moved here. I started hiking and doing more outdoor activities and loved seeing familiar faces everywhere I went. I easily condemned the hectic, high-population density and pollution that came with city life.
Then I was offered an internship in Washington, D.C., this summer. Naturally, I was ecstatic to be in the nation’s capital, and by the end of spring semester, I was ready to leave Pullman for a little while to find some sanity away from the books.
I survived my first five weeks in D.C., being constantly reminded of how expensive it is when transportation costs become very significant (nope, no free bus rides by flashing your Cougar Card). Rent was more than double the usual and crime was rampant.
Also, the blazing heat and humidity, warranting heat advisories, left me dripping in sweat minutes after a cold shower. I longed for Pullman’s dry and bearable summers.
I quickly got out of that funk. Grudgingly, I familiarized myself with bus routes. Soon, I was getting around town without a map or smart phone, just Google Maps and a notebook (a highly admirable feat, if I do say so myself).
I visited a different farmer’s market every week, swayed to street music and ogled at groceries in Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I looked up free or cheap events: parties in the park, street fairs, live shows – I realized that I had to take back my prior condemnation of the city; it was actually a pretty great place to live in.
I also came to understand how living in the city could reduce one’s ecological footprint. People live in smaller spaces and depend on efficient public transportation, minimizing individual consumption of resources. I may have griped about the bus, but it got me to most places within walking distance and helped me become part of the local community.
The wide array of local businesses gave the city another plus point. It encouraged support from the community, which in turn created a thriving and sustainable local economy. The number of eco-friendly businesses, those that placed importance in the triple bottom line of profit, people and the planet, made me swell with pride. Finding a restaurant that ran on wind power and sourced grass-fed beef from local farmers was not uncommon.
Then I returned to Pullman, foolishly expecting city lights and music to fill the streets with life. I quickly sobered up from that high when Pullman’s starry skies echoed louder than any music in town. Solemn orange streetlights brought me back to the place I once happily proclaimed to be home away from home.
I had to readjust myself to the town and rethink my perspectives on small town verses city living. I wasn’t so quick to speak anymore.
I did, however, see how both depended on community to help them flourish. I knew about social capital from academic exposure but now I truly understood it. According to the Civic Practices Network, social capital is the pooling of trust, norms and networks that can help bring change and provide opportunities to the commune. Community-based natural resource management, for example, has taken root in places like Botswana and South Africa, where the people who know their land best collaborate with experts to sustain their resources. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is one way to both support local farmers and get nutritious fresh food and has boomed greatly over the past few years. I knew that getting to know your neighbor was a good thing, but I didn’t know it was that good.
Despite the heat being a huge deterrence, my summer in the city exposed me to more great music, a wider range of food and international cuisines (try coconut milk yogurt, and give Ethiopian food a chance), but most importantly, it showed the importance for us to get out and be involved; our community needs us.