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So I was in New York City last Saturday — and not to see the Pope, though he apparently had the same plans. What struck me driving in was the enormous effort it must take to send food, water and other essentials and non-essentials into the metropolis — not to mention the energy that goes into heating and cooling all those ginormous buildings.

Don’t smaller, distributed cities like York and Lancaster, Gettysburg and Chambersburg make more sense? A big city is sort of like a big coal-burning power plant, a relic of the industrial age that will have to change if we truly care about the environment.

Yet, people in big cities think of themselves as somehow more eco-conscious than us provincials. Sure, they don’t drive. But how do they think all those organic soaps get into the stores they can walk to? Yes, our small towns have problems with sprawl and traffic. But it seems like they’d be easier to address.

What also struck me was the way people sat on the grass in the small slice of Central Park (the lower west corner) where my son and I ran around for an hour. No “group” was bigger than three people, and they were all magically about 15 feet apart. The distance couldn’t have been more regular if they’d all been out there with measuring tape before they set down their blankets.

Another observation: I get the sense (rightly or wrongly) that urbanites see themselves as less conformist, more individualistic than suburban or rural people. Yet, when you think about it, what’s so against-the-grain about choosing to live in the same place as 8 million other people? That seems like a pretty big herd.


The main thing missing in the ongoing debate over Barack Obama’s comments about small-town PA are voices of actual Pennsylvanians (other than Ed Rendell). I’ve seen quotes from consultants, politicians and pollsters, but next to nothing from people who live in our small towns. So for your edification, here’s a particularly perceptive op-ed from a young reporter in York who’s a native. Athough it ran a few weeks ago, it shows why Obama wasn’t far off the mark.

Yes, Obama’s comments were a tad condescending. How would it sound if John McCain said urbanites cling to their lattes and their fear of the suburbs because they’re bitter and frustrated that health insurance isn’t universal? Someone should just say that anyway, I suppose.

But rather than discuss the issues affecting small towns in Pennsylvania, we’re going to get an argument about who’s an elitist. It seems Obama’s biggest crime was uttering words that anyone with the slightest interest in tearing him down could spin quickly and easily. If only politicians could move as quickly when they had an actual problem to solve.

Pennsylvanians aren’t entirely silent in all this. We’ve seen a mayor trotted out in favor of Obama, a guy called John Fetterman from a town called Braddock, near Pittsburgh. But look at this web site and tell me if it seems typical of small towns in any state. Rick Gray of Lancaster also has been making cameos, but Lancaster also is fairly atypical when it comes to PA towns (but aren’t they all and isn’t that part of the point about not clinging to stereotypes?)

Hillary Clinton has been running ads showing her bucolic childhood days in Scranton,. She also assembled a mayors’ conference call, but the only one quoted that I’ve read is Mayor Stephen Reed of Harrisburg. Look at the Harrisburg skyline below and tell me if this is a small town:

[UPDATE: Here are the voices of the bitter themselves]