The Strong Towns Podcast

Gracy Olmstead: It Still Takes a Village

October 28, 2019

As writer Gracy Olmstead was commuting to work in Washington, D.C. from her home in the suburbs, she often thought back to her childhood, being raised in the same rural Idaho town in which her great-great-great grandparents had homesteaded a century earlier.

“When I was growing up, there was a sense in which the cloth of your life was very interconnected,” she says. “There was a lot of life you lived in one place.”

Her experience in the city had been very different. She felt as if her life had been fragmented into various places, each of which required that she wear a different hat, present a different persona. “I didn’t get to live my whole life in one spot. I had a really deep thirst for that. I wanted to live a life in which I worked, worshipped, shopped, was part of associations, etc., in one piece of ground.”

Gracy Olmstead is one of our favorite writers. She has bylines in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Week, and The American Conservative, among many other publications. And we’re excited to welcome her as our guest on today’s episode of the Strong Towns podcast.

In her conversation with Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn, Olmstead reflects on her family’s decision to return to small town life — this time in Northern Virginia — and how her rural background informs her work as a writer and journalist. She and Chuck also discuss what urban and rural people may be missing about each other’s experiences and perspectives, the power of “membership,” and the obligations and opportunities that arise from binding yourself for a lifetime to a place and its people.

Also discussed:

11:15 - Jane Jacobs’s insight that we need to design cities a specific way because we’re interacting with strangers…and why this is increasingly true for changing rural communities too.

16:20 - Why small towns really are “stifling,” and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

19:40 - Olmstead’s powerful article on why parents need villages.

22:20 - The loss of multigenerational homes, and how all of us — young and old, single or not — have suffered the more “generationally siloed” we’ve become.

27:30 - The role of public policy in the absence of “the village” and how Olmstead responds (31:30) to the assertion that public policy programs undermine the reciprocal commitments that are foundational to the village.

36:00 - The often unacknowledged tradeoffs between convenience and connection.

We hope this conversation is the first of many we get to have with Gracy Olmstead. Make sure to connect with her on social media and don’t miss her essential newsletter. We think she’ll quickly become one of your favorite writers too: