Western Massachusetts does not resemble the metastasizing landscapes we’ve come to recognize over the last decade, the frenzy of bulldozers and stoplights, the clusters of KB Home or Toll Brothers signs pointing toward levees outside Sacramento or into hardwood copses north of Raleigh, the subdivisions tamped into Florida citrus groves. The history of my dad’s town, and perhaps more importantly, its ethos, the communal imagination of what it means to live there, sets it apart from the kind of exurb you might see in the national news.
Or at least, that’s what I would like to think. Yet if I take a closer look at the town in light of the Brookings criteria, I’m hard pressed to argue with the report. Most of the people I know commute to work. Housing is low-density: during the last speculative real estate boom-and-bust, in the 1980s, the town voted to create a two-acre minimum lot size. And it doesn’t take much development to create high population growth in a small rural town. Recently, one person who’d purchased land when it was cheap decided to retire elsewhere, carving the wooded property into parcels with road frontage. Realtor signs hash-marked the roadside, and now dirt driveways appear at regular intervals along a stretch of road that had been woods. Not the same in density or scale as a swath of new housing outside Dallas, but a subdivision just the same.
Rural New England functions a lot more as suburbia than it might appear at first glance.