A photo of The Lyric from a viewpoint on top of Henderson Lawn.

Charmed: Defining the Magic of Small Towns

In Charmed, Variety by

In the first article of the “Charmed” series, writer Sabrina Bachert explores the differences between city and small town life.
By Sabrina Bachert, Variety writer Contact the Writer

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A photo of The Lyric, Blacksburg's historic movie theater, shot from on top of Henderson Lawn.

Photo by Elizabeth Bowling.

There’s a certain rush associated with nighttime in the city: the sweet smokiness of the food carts, the gusty sound of the taxis, the lights of office buildings replacing the stars high above your head. With a wealth of options around every block, cities draw people in because they equate abundance in every sense of the word.

Since evolutionary times, the surplus of food and people allowed populations to focus on more than just hunting, gathering, and survival. The rural to urban population movement being the most influential in history in terms of new technologies and cultural developments, cities grew to represent the very essence of prosperity—a life because you want to live it and how you want to live it, rather than a life because you need to survive. Today we might call that opportunity. In the modern world, this opportunity manifests itself in job openings, housing markets, education systems, and general coolness factor.

What is it, then, that draws people to towns like the ones we are so familiar with here in Southwest Virginia? Every year, thousands of Americans trade those urban nuances for the strong, woody smell of fallen leaves, the whirring of cicada, crisp and refreshing mountain breezes, and actual constellations, piercing white and uninterrupted by light pollution.

Here in Blacksburg, opportunity takes a different form. While cities may provide financial, educational, and entrepreneurial chances for success, the late nonfiction writer and social activist Thomas Merton once wrote that “everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things.” The sensory overload provided by the constant wakefulness of urban life allows no time for introspection, which is perhaps the greatest opportunity that small-town America provides. Coming to Blacksburg from a suburb outside of New York City, I found that in hiking the mountains I could see my goals form openly before me, running by the fields in the quiet haze of summer I could dissect my thoughts with much more clarity than I had ever been afforded at home. Truth be told, the slower pace of life in a small town grants you time to stop and think.


A photo shot on College Avenue of a man walking between buildings that line the road.

Photo by Elizabeth Bowling.

William Taggart, cultural anthropologist and instructor at both Radford University and Virginia Tech, describes how humans in smaller towns have more time to think because they are not plagued by choice. Rather than deciding between great Indian food restaurants within ten blocks, or ten within twenty blocks, we in Blacksburg simply head over to India Garden. Problem solved. In this spirit, choice can become paralyzing when applied to every aspect of life. Brought here by the job opportunities that surround the university, Taggart and his wife have had time to enjoy the Blacksburg atmosphere, finding that in small towns it is “easier to be contemplative without the distractions of city life, they are generally more peaceful, and that can make it possible to be happier and more productive.”

From an anthropological standpoint, Taggart contrasts Blacksburg’s relatively low income inequality to that of large cities like Beirut, where one might see refugees eating out of a dumpster against the backdrop of a multi-million dollar home. The somewhat even income distribution and social structure we see in Blacksburg creates a sense of ease to those living here. In essence, life is more comfortable when it’s not a competition. Research even suggests that those who live in urban environments have been recorded with heightened amygdala activity, which is the area of the brain that handles social anxiety and fear.

We here in Blacksburg are a unique case, given that the university is a hub of possibility that constantly draws new people in and out. Blacksburg is a living, breathing town of inflows and outflows that cultivates a lively culture with a small-town feel. This series seeks to explore the different reasons why people are drawn to this beautiful place. With sunny farmers markets, inescapably beautiful hiking trails, and an authentic Southern feel, it isn’t hard to see the obvious charm of Blacksburg. Throughout this series, we’ll be delving into the heart of our town to hear individuals’ stories and get their true opinions to answer the question—what draws people to small towns and what keeps them there?


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About the Author

Sabrina Bachert

Sabrina Bachert is an international studies major at Virginia Tech with a concentration in Arabic and Middle East studies. When she has a minute between Army lab and alumni reunions, you can find her reading an Anne Morrow Lindbergh novel, playing the ukulele, or running the Huck. Here at The Pylon she’s looking to take her hobby of creative writing and turn it into something you’ll love.