Speakingout
Last week's "winter survival guide" column was addressed to those staying - or at least considering staying - in Southeast for the winter. But the fact of the matter is that, like it or not, plenty of people do leave this part of the world, often for places thought to have better weather and more opportunities.
Fall is often a time for farewells 093009 SPEAKINGOUT 2 Capital City Weekly Last week's "winter survival guide" column was addressed to those staying - or at least considering staying - in Southeast for the winter. But the fact of the matter is that, like it or not, plenty of people do leave this part of the world, often for places thought to have better weather and more opportunities.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Story last updated at 9/30/2009 - 11:33 am

Fall is often a time for farewells

Last week's "winter survival guide" column was addressed to those staying - or at least considering staying - in Southeast for the winter. But the fact of the matter is that, like it or not, plenty of people do leave this part of the world, often for places thought to have better weather and more opportunities.

In just four years in Juneau, I'm astounded by the number of people I've seen come and go. There was the friend I moved up here with, who decided after two months that Juneau wasn't for her and high-tailed it back south. Then there were the people who had lived in Juneau for years and seemed such an integral part of the community, I assumed they'd always be here. When they left the character of this place shifted. To be fair, I've also seen a number of friends leave and then come back, which is comforting.

As a newcomer in Juneau, I occasionally sensed a bit of wariness from long-term residents. After all, I worked in tourism at first, and it's hard to count on someone to stay when they're going to be out of a job in a few months.

I think more than a few of my former coworkers were surprised that I ended up staying, as they had seen so many summer folk come and go.

With winter approaching and the summer tourism season just ended, quite a few people are departing our communities. Towns like Juneau and Skagway balloon with seasonal workers in the summer - and bid most of them farewell in the fall.

For anyone concerned with the future of our towns, one of the biggest questions is how to get young people to stay.

There are plenty of reasons often put forth for why it's hard to keep young people in Juneau and Southeast. Affordable housing is a huge issue; education and professional opportunities are other factors.

You don't have to be young to be affected by these issues. The difference is that in general young people are more mobile. Before you're settled with a family or a career, it's easier to decide to look for another place to put down roots. Those who grew up here understandably often want to try living elsewhere. And those who came from elsewhere to Alaska looking for adventure might get called off on other adventures before getting too entrenched here.

But for our communities to stay as vibrant as they are and to grow in the future, young people do need to decide to stay.

There aren't that many of us here. We each have an opportunity to make a substantial difference in our communities. On the flip side, when one person leaves, they can often leave big shoes to fill.

I don't think our towns necessarily need people to commit to living here their entire lives. Whenever someone goes off and lives elsewhere for a while, they come back enriched, with new perspectives, skills and ideas to share. Even if people leave and never come back, if they carry fond memories of Southeast with them, they can be good ambassadors for our region in the rest of the world.

What Juneau needs is people invested in the community, which I think means people who, while living here, act as if they are going to live here forever.

I know some old-timers who are hesitant to get to know newcomers, and I understand the hesitation. It can be disappointing to see people we've come to care about leave.

As for me, I don't think it's worth playing the guessing game if someone is going to stay or not. As long as someone's here and getting involved, they're part of the community. And however long we live here, there's something about our experience while in a remote town like Juneau that binds us together.

Every time someone arrives, the question "why did you come here?" illuminates something about the town. Every time someone leaves, the question "why are you leaving?" illuminates something about the town - what it is missing that this person is seeking. It's this balance between Juneau's assets and Juneau's gaps that makes this place what it is.

As always, we welcome letters from readers. This week I'd like to ask those new to Southeast, what made you come here? And to those who are planning to leave, why are you leaving? And finally, to those still staying after however many years, what keeps you here? I look forward to hearing from you.

Katie Spielberger is the managing editor of the Capital City Weekly. She may be reached at katie.spielberger@capweek.com.


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