Issue 31: The #1 Thing I Learned in England

Melody WarnickLove Where You Live experiment, Place love

That time I went to England

I wanted England, where my family and I went in May on a long-obsessed-over trip, to overwhelm me with its Britishness.

And it did, it totally did. We’re not exactly world travelers over here. There was a thrilling amount of novelty in BBC-style accents and a pocket full of foreign coins. Each strange new thing filled me with a giddy joy. Picture me exulting in the Tesco supermarket over little plastic cups of trifle and cookies called “Jammie Dodgers.” Oh, Brits, how I love you.

Then, almost subconsciously, the four of us started to establish familiar rhythms in the midst of crazy London. Learning the ropes, as it were. There were still new sites to goggle at, but only after we’d swiped our Oyster cards on the double-decker bus like old pros. Only after we’d successfully navigated from our rental flat to the bus stop like we actually knew where we were in physical space.

It was a weird reminder that in a new place, mastery and familiarity create a sense of home quicker than discovery does. Our minds crave the temporary upending of the status quo (something I explain in my TEDx talk). But we also want a sense of control. Sometimes all that requires is shopping the same Tesco four days in a row and buying the same cups of trifle every time.

Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter

I wrote a story for Woman’s Day about small-town heroes like Dustie Gregson, whose restaurant in Asheboro, North Carolina, killed me with croissants. I was interviewed by the very kind Andrew Phillips for LinkedIn. This is Where You Belong was discussed on the Illiterate podcast. Want me to be on your podcast/website/stage? Hit me up.

7 items of interest

1. Good news: Small towns are cheap enough that you can do what you want there. (P.S.—My friend Mickey Howley, who’s quoted in this story, sent me this glorious cookbook straight from Water Valley, Mississippi. I still need to visit.
2. “Same Hill, Different Day”—such a wistful photography project about places changing over time.
3. Millennials aren’t actually staying in superstar cities anymore.
4. “Sometimes when I get off the train I feel like a salmon leaping up the last waterfall, knowing innately I’ve arrived.” On how the geography of childhood stays with you.
5. Funny, these tips on helping kids thrive living in a city (dine at every walkable restaurant, start a little free library) happen to double as stellar Love Where You Live experiments.
6. “The story of who leaves a place is just as important as the story of who stays.” Could you move back to your hometown? Would you want to anyway?
7. A solution for when geography separates you from old friends.

xoxo, Melody

P.S.—If you subscribed to my newsletter, you’d be getting links to, like, xylophones made out of Hot Wheels here. So subscribe!

Issue 30: In Praise of the Standing Date

Melody WarnickBlacksburg, Community, Love Where You Live experiment

For the past few months, the women at my church have been joining small interest groups—you know, like Meetups, but slightly more old-fashioned. Book club is an old standby, but now there’s a knitting group, a play group, a quilting group, a family history group, and so on. I was put in charge of the lunch group, because eating at restaurants is one of my core competencies. All I do is set a date and choose a place. As leadership roles go, I’ve had more challenging ones.

Who comes? Sometimes thirteen of us and we have to push together tables and apologize to other customers. Sometimes three of us, chatting quietly in a booth. I don’t always feel like showing up myself. (TBH, I rarely feel like doing anything at all.)

That’s where the standing appointment saves me from myself. Inevitably, once I’m eating my salad (just kidding, my burger) and discussing careers and kids, I’m happy I came. I just regularly forget to remember how happy I’ll be in the future.

While scheduling a hangout far in advance laughs in the face of spontaneity, I’m not sure much spontaneity exists in the modern world anyway, or that it matters. What we really need are ironclad methods to strengthen human relationships despite our laziness, busyness, and disraction, so that we keep building community even when we don’t feel like it or think we don’t have time for it.

In a beautiful essay in Quartz, Jenny Anderson writes about how painstaking this process of building connections really is. “Community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.”

Well, maybe there’s one hack. Calendar the relationships you want to keep.

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Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: I was asked to be the inaugural guest on a new podcast called Wellness 3.0, hosted by Amy Baglan, the smart, chill founder of MeetMindful. They’re launching a new app called Fabriq to help you socialize IRL, so we talked about finding friends and Sunday night dinners and saying yes and all sorts of good stuff related to social wellness. Go have a listen!

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7 items of interest

  1. How one town destroyed by disaster is trying to create a more vibrant version of itself by outlawing sprawl.
  2. Do you have a favorite place on earth?
  3. Better uses for big box stores.
  4. Leslie Knope is my spirit animal so I am overjoyed that someone created a Knope award for best government places.
  5. “My girlfriend recently moved to Iowa from Manhattan. She cut her rent by two-thirds while almost tripling her square footage.” Why the Midwest wins at quality of life.
  6. There is a Best Places board game, and the character cards include Tastemaker, Small Business Owner, Retiree and Hometown Hero. Sounds about right.
  7. Miami doesn’t have a Chinatown. So it’s making one.

xoxo, Melody

P.S. All the best bonus links are in my newsletter. But you have to subscribe.

Issue 29: Spring Will Heal You

Melody WarnickBlacksburg, Love Where You Live experiment, Place love

Spring is awesome.

In early March I got a message from a reader in Calgary, Canada, who was like, “I’m really struggling to love my city right now.”

I said, “Girl, everybody hates their city in winter.”

It’s weird because some data from Robert Putnam suggests that levels of social capital are higher the farther north you go. The theory is that in the kinds of places that are periodically afflicted with polar vortexes, community members rely on each other more for emotional and physical support. (Witness the good news stories about teenagers shoveling out a neighbor who needs dialysis.)

These are Little House on the Prairie places where winter was historically wiled away with visits and shared meals. That heritage of taking care of others seemingly passes down through a community’s DNA, despite our world of central heating and remote-start vehicles.

Nevertheless, I find myself withdrawing in winter. Like the Pandapas Pond frogs that disappear into the muck come December, I burrow. All my place attachment behaviors recede. I never want to leave my house. (IT’S COLD.) So I see friends less, walk less, skip community events, and don’t volunteer. By March I’ve forgotten what it means to act like someone who loves their place.

Spring is my time to hit the reset button. Here in Blacksburg, we’ve had a string of 50-degree days, not exactly midsummer but we’ll take it. Last night, while my girls were off at church activities, I took a walk to the library. After five minutes of wrestling with wonky earbuds, I unplugged. I listened. To my own breathing, to a couple women urging on their reluctant dog, to robins and cardinals building nests in the trees. The full moon was rising. The light on the daffodils seemed pale and silvery. I thought, “How impossibly beautiful it is here.”

It’s easier to love your town in nice weather. It just is. So if you’ve hibernated this winter like I have, let’s remind ourselves how to like where we live. We’ll sit outside in the sunshine, work in the garden, and say hello to neighbors. If it’s not springy quite yet where you live, it’s coming, I promise.

I’m traveling a lot for work these days. I leave for Michigan in a couple hours. But I’ll be back on Friday, and I think that this weekend I’ll go to the farmers’ market. At long last.

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Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: Moving soon? Know someone who is? Enroll in Relocation Recovery, the online course I helped create with tons of tricks, tips, and guidance for feeling settled after a move, all for $25!

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7 items of interest

1. 61 ways you don’t need permission to make your town better.
2. Has faith helped you make a moving decision? Or feel better about moving altogether? (My friend Rachel wrote this one.)
3. How to build communities designed for happiness and well-being.
4. Do you keep seeing the same stranger everywhere? It’s a thing. Read a few more adorable stories here.
5. More anchor institutions should buy local.
6. Reason to throw a party: “Every time people gather, they are being brought into the opportunity to help one another, to do what they couldn’t do or think up or heal alone.”
7. Why community development and decision-making is like making biscuits from scratch, not popping the Pillsbury can. (BTW, these girls are awesome.)

xoxo, Melody

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Issue 28: How to Live to Be 92

Melody WarnickBlacksburg

The other morning, as I drove home from a ridiculously early-morning class that I teach, I caught my neighbor, June, crossing the street in her robe and slippers.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m just going to put Betty’s newspaper on her porch.”

I knew the answer already, because I see it from my window sometimes. June scoops up Betty’s newspaper and drops it on her porch. The next day, here comes Betty across the street in her robe to do the same thing for June. They wrestle each other for garbage privileges too, taking turns wheeling the other’s can back up the drive on pickup days.

Honestly, it took me a while to figure out what was going on because it struck me as slightly odd. Clearly no one in this scenario actually needs the help. And yet they keep doing it for one another.

Did I mention that June is 92? And Betty is maybe 20 years younger? They’ve been neighbors for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I’m guessing they’ve been performing this ritual of kindness for so long it’s calcified into habit, something that barely requires thought.

It is, let’s be honest, not the kind of habit that gets written up in articles about the morning routines of successful people. But everything about this ritual of neighborliness or something like it would get your day off to a good start.

  • You begin with a quick win.
  • You put the rest of your priorities in perspective.
  • You tell your brain what matters most so you’re less likely to freak out about little stuff.
  • You feel really good about yourself.
  • You live to be 92.
  • It’s working for Betty and June.

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    Shameless self-promotion portion of the newsletter: One event I’ll be speaking at this spring that I want to invite you to is the Young Smart & Local conference in Philadelphia in April. If you work in economic development, higher education, business or government, and if you’re interested in attracting and retaining young talent (and you should be), join me! The slate of speakers is fantastic.

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    7 items of interest

    1. “Support your local and downtown public libraries” and 24 other simple ways to make where you live better.
    2. News you can use: a Japanese town with a rapidly declining population has enlisted the help of a mascot that is “an apple that’s been inhabited by the spirit of a dead cat, and he absolutely shreds on the drums.” I’m not sure why we haven’t seen this approach to talent attraction used more widely. (Important: This story mentions Gritty. It’s now my goal to bring him up in every newsletter.)
    3. An Australian town took a slightly different (but also unconventional) route to a turnaround.
    4. Is this a creepy or cute way to attract visitors to a tiny town? You decide.
    5. Enough Pie, an organization in Charleston, South Carolina, that I wrote about in This Is Where You Belong, compiled an awesome list of resources for would-be placemakers and neighborhood catalyzers (and I promise I’m not recommending it just because my book is among the recommended reading).
    6. How to make friends in a new city (or for that matter, an old one). #1: Capitalize on weak ties.
    7. Watch this video. Five minutes will completely convince you of the power of urban planning to make city centers places where people want to be. (Related: Australians talk about their favorite public spaces.)

    xoxo, Melody

    P.S.—Want to get extra links to Youtube videos that make you cry and riveting longform reads and surprising facts and novels I loved? You gotta subscribe.