NOT THE SAME OLD THING: The importance of ‘local’ 

“The best way to be global is to be local.”

Alex Atala

I know, I know, this quote sounds like some Alice in Wonderland, “Sometimes down is up, sometimes up is down” kind of concept, but really, it’s absolutely true.

We are all citizens of the world; we all live on this beautiful blue marble and have our humanity in common. But let’s face it: When you drill down to a region, a country, a state, city, town, or street, the picture changes a bit, doesn’t it? 

While I am a born-and-raised New Englander and have lived here all my life, being a college student in Vermont was vastly different from commuting to Boston in my first real job, and both of those times were nothing like the years spent raising children in the suburbs. Those local areas each offered different experiences, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

In Ireland, they have an expression, “Going down the local.” It refers to a local bar or pub — shocker, right?

Irish pub names are always so clever, but when it comes down to it, how do the Irish refer to their pub, the place where “everybody knows your name”? “The local.”

Because whether it’s the Hairy Lemon in Dublin or the Squealing Pig in County Monaghan, it’s “local” to all who come through the door. It’s an Irish thing.

Whether for a day or a lifetime, if you show up at a pub and want to have a chat, you’re taken in and you’re a “local,” even if just for a couple of rounds.

That’s how much living “local” means to some people. It’s about community; it’s about those around you.

Sure, some groups pull up in tour buses and flood the shop street with their bags and their cellphones, snapping selfies and keeping to themselves, but that’s their loss. If you’re going to go somewhere but not spend time being part of it, why even bother?

Boston might be famous for the Freedom Trail, food, and Fenway, but if you are from here, you know Modern Pastry is the real deal, and Mike’s is for tourists.

Likewise, New York might have the Statue of Liberty, but no one on the tour bus can tell you the best place nearby to get an authentic NYC bagel. To know that, you have to talk to a local.

What happens when we lose local? Obviously, I don’t mean that a town will disappear like Brigadoon, but rather what happens when the elements that make a local place start to fade away?

One of the most crucial elements of any community is the flow of information. Much like a company whose long-term employees have “institutional knowledge,” in local communities and neighborhoods, if you know, you know.

What’s the best place to buy groceries? Who has the best prices for landscaping? Which pizza place has thin crust? What’s happening at the library? Who’s getting married? Who just had a baby? What’s the crime rate? What would the cops like those in town to know for safety reasons? That’s the kind of information and knowledge that exists in every local area.

It’s useless, though, if there isn’t a way for community members to exchange ideas. It’s not as easy as dedicating a shelf of local guidebooks at the library; it’s so much more.

It’s about the experience, time spent living and breathing everything that goes on, and learning from it. That kind of local institutional knowledge is priceless, and without access to it, how can anything be truly appreciated? Can a town really run well if the residents are not connected to what’s happening around them?

The town crier, standing in the square, ringing a bell and hollering out the news of the day, is just a historical figure in a history textbook. Sure, we have shiny modern social media outlets, with pages and pages of opinions on everything. Some are even coherent, though that definition varies as one would expect.

An article I read talked about a community’s “connective tissue,” and guess what? It’s not social media. It’s not network news, and it’s definitely not random gossip. It’s an independent source of curated knowledge, and no community is genuinely local without it.

While we all live in our own towns and cities, we are part of the global whole as well. If we don’t come from connected local communities, where residents participate in the unique bits of politics, education and local lore, what can we offer the rest of the planet? The same perspective that a hundred other disconnected local areas have. Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it?

Let’s not lose local. It’s too important.

We are delighted Brenda Kelley Kim has agreed to write a regular column for the Marblehead News Group.  For over a decade, The Marblehead Reporter published her weekly column, “Not The Same Old Thing.” She is the author of “Sink or Swim: Tales from the Deep End of Everywhere.” She resides in town with her family and a snorty pug named Penny in a tiny cottage by the sea. 

Brenda Kelley Kim
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