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The Booming Metropolis of Davidson

by Lindsay Brownell

October 6,2007

When one thinks of a large city, one usually pictures tall buildings, endless traffic, and artsy coffee shops. One does not normally associate the same things with Davidson, the town of 7,000 that harbors my home-away-from-home of Davidson College. While Davidson certainly lacks skyscrapers, mega-department stores and the hundreds of thousands of residents that usually designates a “city,” it possesses the same vibrant spirit and culture found in most major cities in this country.

When I first arrived here from Detroit, one of the last words I would have used to describe Davidson is “urban.” There is one main street (named, appropriately, Main Street) with two traffic lights. “Going grocery shopping” means walking down to CVS to stock up on cereal. Despite these facts, I also noticed some elements in Davidson that are distinctly “city-ish.”

The first is its traffic jams. For two hours every morning and evening, it seems as if every car in the state of North Carolina has decided that they simply must drive through tiny Davidson on the way to their destinations. The seemingly endless lines of stationary traffic resemble Manhattan’s impenetrable walls of cars during rush hour, but sans taxis.

Davidson also has its tribute to the coffee shop-haunting, poetry slamming youth that inhabit artsy, caffeine-dispensing havens in our major cities. Look no farther than Summit, the town of Davidson’s much classier version of Starbucks. Summit draws a crowd of locals, musicians, professors and students with its homey, rustic atmosphere, open-mic nights with live performances, and generous supply of fresh muffins and chai lattes.

But more than these physical elements, what struck me most about Davidson was its humanity, which I observed in the local children playing football on the Town Green, students stopping their own work to help a friend with theirs, or strangers greeting each other on the street with a friendly “Good morning.” While major cities can be seen as harsh and impersonal, I believe that residents of a city, whether they like it or not, share a bond of common space and culture that make for a vibrant, dynamic atmosphere. I certainly feel that bond at Davidson, because like a city, all the residents of the College share much of the same space. Dorms are essentially apartment buildings, professors are employers and the cafeteria is the local diner where neighbors meet daily over coffee.

In many ways, I prefer living here to living in a “real” city. I can walk around campus at three in the morning and feel safe. Thanks to the college’s Honor Code, I can take tests in my room with my textbook sitting a few feet away from me without opening it. I can just as easily debate the mimetic theory of evolutionary ethics with one friend and whether pirates or ninjas would win a hypothetical face-off with another. While such things are not usually associated with cities, this does not mean that because Davidson has them, it cannot be considered a city of sorts. I believe the solidarity I share with my hallmates and classmates mirrors that found between coworkers, fellow tenants and even strangers on a subway. September 11th showed us how a city of strangers can band together in times of extreme stress, demonstrating how loyalty to a place and culture can influence all of a city’s members to act as one. I have no doubt that Davidson would be equally up to the task.

So while we may not have the miles of concrete and population usually associated with metropolitan centers, Davidson is a city, albeit not a traditional one. It has its quirky, artsy side along with its hardworking ethic, a strong sense of community, and intense rush hour traffic. And despite its small size, it is home to the tenth-best liberal arts college in the nation. There must be something more than what a “real” city can offer attracting the best young minds to this small-town college in North Carolina. As my father reminded me recently, a college is a large business whose input is children and whose output is contributing members of society. I think Davidson College, along with the town of Davidson and the Charlotte area, must be doing something right, because business is booming.

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