[from November 2018]
This was my comfort read this year. Whenever the news got me down I’d pick up this book and read about another American town that was trying to figure things out, from economies in the tank to the opioid epidemic to immigration.
Jim Fallows, whom you will know from his work at The Atlantic, and his wife Deb climb into their Cirrus and spend four years flying around the United States finding communities large (Erie, Pennsylvania, 97,000) and small (Eastport, Maine, 1500) that are in the process of figuring out how to make things work, and in large part are succeeding.
In their conclusion the Fallows compares our current time with the Gilded Age and, convincingly, make the case that
Whichever party holds the presidency, the other will likely hold enough of the Congress to make comprehensive measures of any sort very hard to push through. That is why local resilience and adaptability of the kind we have witnessed deserve nationwide attention.
So we can’t look to the federal government for the next interstate highway system, but we can look to towns and cities to figure out mass transportation, and when they do, for other communities to model on theirs.
The Fallows’ found many similarities between these communities which they summarize in their last chapter, “10 1/2 Signs of Civic Success,” which if you have any civic spirit at all will have you reading through the lens of your own community. First off? Communities that work work in a non-partisan manner. Let me just say that again: A NON-PARTISAN MANNER. In fact, the Fallows write
The more often national politics came in local discussions, the worse shape the town was likely to be in.
Successful communities have downtowns and community colleges and support their public libraries. They make themselves open, in particular to immigrants, and they have big plans. Remember Eastport, Maine? The town of 1500 people? They’re reinventing themselves as the US’s northernmost seaport in anticipation of global warming opening up over-the-top sea routes.
Lastly, you know, the 1/2 sign? Brewpubs.
…there’s one other marker of a city that is working, perhaps the most reliable gauge. A city on the way back will have at least one craft brewery, maybe more, and probably some small distilleries, too…A town that has them also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young…customers. It sounds like a joke, but it explains a lot.
My own home town of Homer, Alaska, has two brewpubs. Jim and Deb Fallows, please note.
This is a book that will make you feel better about just about everything. Read it, recommend it, take heart.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.