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

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

James and Deborah Fallows. Pantheon, $28.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-101-87184-3

Creativity, know-how, diversity, and public-spiritedness are the perhaps surprising national trends unearthed in this exuberant exploration of economic development in Middle America. In researching the book, husband-and-wife journalists James Fallows (China Airborne) and Deborah Fallows (Dreaming in Chinese) flew around the country in their prop plane surveying unsung renaissances of cities and small towns. They find commonplaces—like the ubiquitous downtown-revitalization quartet of tech-startup incubator, waterfront bike path, arts festival, and microbrewery—as well as idiosyncrasies: Bend, Ore.’s marijuana shop; Duluth, Minn.’s growing aviation sector; new factories and vocational training in Columbus, Miss., and cutting-edge fashion design in Columbus, Ohio. Unlike the usual community-activism narratives, the authors spotlight a civic establishment of urban planners, development officials, strong mayors, and business boosters; they also cite as keys to prosperity brainy innovators at universities, hard-working immigrants, and citizens willing to raise taxes for needed government services. The Fallowses’ reportage from fly-over territory occasionally feels schmaltzy—“[i]n the Best Western breakfast room, Miss Nettie was making grits and biscuits”—and they skirt troubling features of development strategies, like the antiunion animus of Southern states. Still theirs is an eye-opening, keenly optimistic reminder of the strength of America’s vital center. (May)