From the Editor: What I found when I moved away
BY PAULA MINAERT — After living in Hyattsville for more than 30 years, my husband and I moved to New London, New Hampshire, about six months ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about how it compares to Hyattsville.
The climate is cooler and drier, of course (which we like). But now we are farther away from many things we took for granted; we can’t get to a national museum in half an hour. The Home Depot, and all the big-box stores, are several towns away.
Our new town is smaller than Hyattsville: around 4,400 people rather than about 18,000, according to the 2010 census. And it is much less diverse. Fewer than 2 percent are African-American and the Hispanic population is 0.7 percent. That’s a big change from Hyattsville, where Hispanics account for nearly 40 percent of residents. I miss speaking Spanish.
But like Hyattsville, people here are friendly. The day we moved in, four of our neighbors came over to welcome us. One brought cookies. The mail carrier stopped her car one morning and called to us, “How do you like Wilma’s house?”
New London governs itself by a town meeting system, rather than Hyattsville’s city council. (The small size helps, I’m sure.) Major issues are decided by all eligible residents at an annual town meeting. I went to our meeting a few weeks ago and found the whole process fascinating.
My husband and I had registered to vote the day before. We showed our licenses and a volunteer wrote our names in a ledger. But when we went to the meeting, the volunteers there couldn’t find our names.
“They’re not in the computer,” one woman told us. We said we’d be happy to observe, even if we couldn’t vote.
But another woman, who had seen us register the day before, was quite perturbed and spent time trying to find our names. She didn’t, but finally called us over and told us she was allowing us to vote and gave us our yellow voting tickets. Then she thanked us for our patience! After the voting, city staff passed out Hershey’s Kisses to everyone.
About 350 residents attended the meeting. Like Hyattsville, only a small core of committed people is involved in city matters. What’s different is that those 350 make up around 10 percent of the eligible voters. That’s a high proportion.
One issue was controversial — allocating extra funds for the conservation committee — and people spoke passionately about it. But there wasn’t a high level of tension and everyone was polite. (Of course, I’m not involved enough yet to know what happens behind the scenes.)
Something else I’ve noticed about New London: People over 50 comprise 48.4 percent of the population here; in Hyattsville it’s 23.5 percent. That might help explain why so many people are involved in city affairs.
Other things make us realize we’re in a new place. There are only two traffic lights in town, both blinking, and very few street lights or sidewalks. There’s more wildlife. I’ve only seen a fox, some deer and flocks of wild turkeys. But every time it snowed, animal tracks criss-crossed our yard, some right under our bedroom window. And something large knocked over our St. Francis statue.
I’m still hoping to see bears and moose, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t happen in Hyattsville.
Paula Minaert is the former executive editor of the Hyattsville Life & Times.