It’s no secret that cities and regions are increasingly faced with a wide range of complex challenges. But rather than let this be discouraging, we should also look to the sources of hope and optimism that are unfolding in communities across the country. Our Economic Development team was reminded of this at the recent National Main Street conference, where keynote speakers, James and Deborah Fallows, discussed this topic at length, drawing from a literal journey they took that led to their best-selling book, “Our Towns.”

Over the course of several years, and with the use of a single-engine prop plane, the Fallows visited towns and cities across the nation to better understand the civic success stories and examples of leadership improving communities. They described their journey in four stages:

  1. Simple Curiosity. The initial goal was to uncover what small towns and main streets in America are really like, despite the often negative tone of national media coverage.
  2. Recognition of Patterns. Across their visits, there was a sense of momentum at local levels and a surprising amount of activity going on, including shifts of living styles, rebuilding of downtowns, and expanding local arts movements.
  3. Observation of the Emerging Science of “Revitalization Activity.” It became clear that there are dozens of organizations that are taking on the topic of civic engagement and community revitalization. These organizations are applying their expertise not just in urban centers, but across main street environments, too.
  4. Wondering What’s Next. The Fallows believe the American consciousness needs to know these stories. Mainstream rhetoric that’s so focused on dysfunction needs to be counteracted by telling stories of possibility. The new American civic life is being invented every day in local communities.

The lessons they learned and recounted were countless. But perhaps the most important trends they observed from town to town, and city to city, were the following:

  1. There is a richness of civic life in rural and smaller towns because their citizens wear multiple hats and fill many roles in the community.
  2. While some think there is a “sameness” of America (that everything is what you see on the interstate), the power of distinct localism is very vivid.
  3. While the fraying of social fabric has been documented in some places, this fabric is now being re-knit, partly through powerful public-private partnerships.
  4. Libraries have become the most democratic institution in communities. They serve as “bucket fillers” — learning what a town needs and providing it.

The Fallows’ observations serve as an important reminder about the power of local communities and the need to celebrate the authenticity and culture of our districts, towns, and cities. We are thinking a lot about that in Fremont and in the process, we’re uncovering the hidden gems inside our own main streets. In that spirit, we will be telling these stories more frequently, and that starts with this narrative of Fremont’s authentically cultivated neighborhoods. We encourage you to get out and explore all that Fremont’s districts have to offer and send along other great tips!