Small Town America
11 July 2010
This is a guest post from my sister, L. M. Nielsen, who recently moved from Florida to Holland, Michigan.
What makes a small town a small town? Is it the population, the feel, or the commonality of the people? I may not be able to define a small town, but I know one when I see one.
For employment purposes, I have been temporarily relocated to Michigan. Coming from Florida, this is a big change. Being that it is summer, the change is a pleasant one. My relocation was to Grand Rapids, but I chose Holland as my temporary home. Personally, I prefer to live in a small town, or a town that feels small to me, rather than a big city. For vacation purposes, I love to explore big cities such as Paris, London, Rome and Madrid. But for everyday living, I’ll take a small town.
Holland, Michigan is located 30 miles west of Grand Rapids, very near the shore of Lake Michigan. The population of Holland is listed as 34,000, not particularly small, but it certainly has the feel of a small town, and is much smaller than the neighboring Grand Rapids, whose population is listed as 194,000. With one main downtown street lined with shops, restaurants and colorful flower baskets, Holland is what I was looking for in my new home.
Holland is known for its Dutch heritage, fully embraced by the town with the relocation of a working windmill, imported from the Netherlands, and an annual tulip festival. This weekend the final 2010 World Cup match will be watched with great interest in the local pubs, owing to the game pitting The Netherlands against Spain. The city of Holland also sponsors a Summer Concert Series every Friday evening in the local Kollen Park and a Street Performer Series downtown every Thursday evening from June to August.
Between May and November, Holland hosts the Eighth Street Market Place, a Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and Saturday. I have made it a point to visit every market day since I arrived. The produce is fresh and tasty and the people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. This is one of the reasons Holland feels small town to me. I have heard shoppers, short of cash, told by vendors that they can make up the difference on the next market day. I am a stranger here, but have been greeted with a friendly smile, eye contact, and kind words from everyone I pass, almost without exception. Is it a coincidence that Holland, Michigan was named the second happiest place to live in America by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in 2009?
My actual home town in Florida has a population of 245,000 — what I consider to be a medium size city. I have lived there for twenty-four years and know the area well. At times I run into people I know on the street, but I haven’t been greeted by strangers there, in the same small town way that I have here. In less than two weeks time, I feel at ease here, accepted, and welcomed.
A short list of my favorite small towns includes Cannon Beach, Oregon (population 1,726); Ogunquit, Maine (population 1,263); Anna Maria, Florida (population 1,829); Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA (population 3,886); and now Holland, Michigan. These small towns have in common their close proximity to the ocean or a large lake, an artsy, outdoor friendly downtown, and outdoor café dining.
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