“Grandma, you will be missing the true Stars Hollow experience if you don’t walk.” –Rory Gilmore (Season 1, Episode 19).
I have a confession to make: I never watched Gilmore Girls in my childhood, so I have been making up for lost time over the last month thanks to Netflix (and I still have many more delightful months ahead of me). Pretty much since the first episode, I’ve been fascinated by the urban setting of the TV show—the idyllic, walkable town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Allow me, then, this interlude post in which I’ll break it down and talk about just how lovely—and mythical—it is. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, I trust that you’re probably not going to be persuaded based on just one blog post, so you can go ahead and skip reading this. (That being said, I do urge you to examine the settings of your favorite TV shows more closely, as I’m sure you’ll be able to make some interesting observations about urbanism there.) But for those who have watched Gilmore Girls, well, I think you’ll see what I’m getting at.
First, a summary. I’ll say right off the bat that I’ve only watched Season One thus far (please no spoilers in the comments) so I will only be speaking about Stars Hollow, where the main characters—mother and daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore—reside. Stars Hollow is a charming, New England village. It boasts affordable housing (for example, a single mother who manages an inn can pay for a two-story Victorian), friendly neighborhood shops where everyone knows your name, a central gathering place in the form of the town square, and walkable streets in which kids can visit their friends after school and grandmothers can safely take a morning stroll.
This is an old-school small town that has yet to be corrupted by the trappings of mid-century “improvement” like wider roads, parking lot requirements and strip malls.* Never once do we see a McDonald’s or a department store in Stars Hollow. We rarely even see Rory or Lorelai in a car, except when they need to travel outside the town to visit relatives or get to Rory’s school. Stars Hollow is picturesque and peaceful.
Lest anyone think—judging by the posts on this blog—that I have no respect for small towns and only value the metropolitan lifestyle, you should know that I’ve lived in small towns before: one, Walla Walla, WA, which was rather depressing and definitely not a good place for me, and two, Ballyvaughan, Ireland, which was a wonderful, magical place. I can go into what’s wrong with Walla Walla from my perspective later, but the point is that I’ve seen the beautiful side of the small town life. It’s residents who all know each other, favorite local cafes, peace and quiet, and the ability to walk everywhere.
Stars Hollow certainly captures that. Everyone seems comfortable. They have a history with one another and with the town. They may leave for school or for travel, but most will come back because they love the place. They also love and support each other. For instance, there’s an entire episode that centers on a funeral for a neighbor’s beloved cat, at which the entire town is in attendance. Naturally, this closeness also results in some comical nosiness from various villagers constantly trying to get the latest gossip, which some people might find annoying. But by and large, who among you has watched Gilmore Girls and not, at one point or another, wished you could have coffee at Luke’s, or buy grocery’s from Doose’s Market, or stroll through the town square?
Stars Hollow is pure magic, and of course, it’s fictional. But we can learn from this fairytale place by reflecting on what we love about it, and then slowly working to make the places where we live in real life, look a little more like magic.
* As café owner, Luke Danes, states in Season 1, Episode 20: “No malls. I hate malls. They underpay employees. They sell overpriced merchandise. They contribute to urban sprawl. They encourage materialism. And the parking’s a horror.”