James and Deborah Fallows are living the life we dream about.
Flying from town to town across America, embedding themselves in the community and writing about what they find.
James has done this for years as national correspondent for The Atlantic.
For the book “Our Towns,” he and his wife alternate writing chapters as they visit places such as Eastport, Maine, Greenville, South Carolina, Burlington, Vermont and Winters, California.
Every town they write about is a place you’d love to visit. That’s how vivid the writing is; you feel like you are transported to these magical communities.
Their prose is so descriptive, the town’s stories are so compelling that you find yourself fantasizing about visiting or living there.
They seem to find the people that make a place go and spend time at brewpubs, YMCA’s, libraries and innovative schools.
They look for vibrant downtowns, committed business and civic leaders and along the way you become invested in the towns they write about.
All of the towns have a story and an arc: from despair to revitalization.
Some have fully “arrived” — places like Greenville and Burlington and Holland, Michigan some are on the way (Eastport, Maine) but all have some common elements:
Committed citizens, a willingness to invest, a desire to improve, honesty about the problems they face, schools that take chances and set high standards, an embrace of culture and quality of life amenities and an ability to celebrate their wins. They aspire and they have civic pride. They also seem to have microbreweries. Seriously.
Anyway, the Fallows’ have come up with 11 signs a city will succeed based on their travels.
Here they are:
—Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.
—You can pick out the local patriots. You can answer the question “who makes this town go?” Sometimes it’s a mayor or council member. Sometimes it’s a volunteer or local business leader.
—Public private partnerships are real. Successful towns can point to examples and say “this is what a partnership means.”
—People know the civic story. America has a story. So does California. And so do successful towns and cities.
—They have a downtown. And that downtown is healthy and has some ambition. Good bones are critical but not enough.
—They are near a research university. This is somewhat controversial because not every successful town is so blessed. But it helps.
—They have and care about a community college.
—They have unusual schools. Schools that innovate, take risks and deliver.
—They make themselves open. Great cities are inclusive and work to assimilate newcomers.
—They have big plans. They aspire, they have vision and they execute.
—They have craft breweries. Fallows calls this perhaps the most reliable marker. His point: “ A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur and a critical mass of mainly young customers.”
He challenges us to find an exception. Fortunately, both Delray and Boca have craft breweries. So does Boynton Beach.
Take a look at the list and see how many signs we have. Drop us a line and let us know your thoughts.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a good summer read check out “Our Towns.”