Our Towns, A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

Our Towns, A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

TitleOur Towns, A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America (2019)
AuthorJames & Deborah Fallows

Visiting towns across America by plane, the Fallows found communities confronting local problems head-on with hope, candor, compromise, pragmatism & determination, a story of regions, cities & towns transforming themselves in spite of toxic national politics.

Relevant trends:

Traditionally, federal government offered the best vehicle for solving intractable challenges (e.g., civil rights, public education, health care, clean air & water & interstate highways). However, the growing gap between federal dysfunction & faith in local governance is causing local leaders & governments to seize the initiative in confronting civic problems.

Local progress:

Shows, sports, tragedies & tweets have masked exciting progress in unexpected places. Like Louis Brandeis’ “laboratories of American democracy,” local governments have long served as civic labs for testing ideas, reforming institutions & achieving tangible civic progress (e.g., Cleveland’s Mayor Johnson in the early 20th Century). Localism offers real hope for overcoming national inertia on many issues (e.g., as demagogues fuel national divisions over immigration, many communities quietly welcome immigrants as assets).

Criteria for success:
  • Leadership – strong, energetic, creative, continuous & prominent local leadership with a deep sense of place, ownership & local patriotism
  • Collaboration – a proven commitment to working together, overcoming national political differences & building effective public-private partnerships that cut across bureaucratic barriers to leverage local assets & get things done
  • Vision – bold plans that inspire communities & offer tangible results
  • Civic narrative – clear, compelling & widely-accepted civic stories that help citizens grasp how today’s efforts support tomorrow’s vision
  • Openness – commitment to preventing brain-drain by attracting & engaging new leaders & residents, including immigrants
  • K-12 schools – distinctive, innovative K-12 schools
  • Higher education – strong, agile research university or community college playing greater roles in local civic affairs (e.g., economic development & K-12)
  • Downtown – Vibrant core areas with controlled car access, narrow streets, accessible retail, ample residences & appealing amenities (e.g., brewery, restaurants, coffee shops, bike trail, river walk, festivals, farmers market & baseball parks)
Sample success stories:
  • Columbus OH – focused civic leadership, clear vision, strong civic narrative, engaged university, vibrant downtown & voter support for government
  • Greenville SC – continuous local leadership, openness to emerging leaders, research university capacity, elementary engineering school program & impressive downtown
  • Fresno CA – openness to immigrants, appealing quality of life & joint computer training program (tech start-ups, local governments, colleges, schools & libraries)
  • Sioux Falls SD – strong civic narrative, appealing quality of life, openness to immigrants & vibrant downtown
  • Bend OR – strong civic narrative, appealing quality of life & effort to attract OSU branch
  • Burlington VT – openness to new people & vibrant downtown
Our Take:

With this book, the Fallows have given us a powerful antidote to our national dysfunction & an important contribution to civic progress. It not only chronicles the oft-unheralded efforts of optimistic local leaders driven to improve their communities, but demonstrates the exciting promise of local leadership, cooperation & action. Shifting our focus to local issues will free us to tackle problems & attain progress in more civilized, pragmatic ways.