'What Is Special About My Town': Fayetteville, Bartow, Kirksville

By James Fallows

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More in our series. Above shows blue for previously discussed cities, green for the ones discussed today. Live map on our companion site coming soon.

Fayetteville, North Carolina

I entered the Navy four years ago and recently returned here for the first time and I was shocked by the changes, good and bad for my hometown. With the recent implementation of the long planned BRAC realignment of Fort Bragg has come a wave of infrastructure; long awaited bridges, widened commuter routes and development of our more rural areas. The breath of fresh opportunity into the area is palpable and I would love to get a good look at how the heart of my city is pumping.

The community's well deserved appreciation of Waffle House, Zorba's, and all diners in general. Max & Moritz German Bakery and Bombay Bistro are little known but great restaurants that are some of my favorite spots.

Fourth Fridays, along with a continuing efforts to inject the downtown area with vitality and commerce are very pleasant and cherished by the community. Along with that comes the Museum of Arts seemingly constant fight for a bigger, better museum.

The grittiness and character of Bragg Blvd, except for the massage parlors, of course. I don't know how those places stay open, they aren't fooling anybody. (Not that I have a problem with the base issue of prostitution.) I feel a majority of hasn't truly embraced the idea of revitalization. "Fayettenam" seems to be all my age group can really see.

I am disheartened though by the growth of long festering problems. There seems to be a surge in heroin usage and meth addicts, many of my former mates have become addled shells of themselves. It's an issue that everyone's knows of but receives little mention.

Attention is paid to our lackluster school system. It's justly earned but does not seem to amount to change beyond putting schools on probation or threat of closure. I'm sure this is just a reflection of the overall national education issue but I feel that our youth are being left to rot on the vine.

Unemployment, if I'm not mistaken, hovers just a little over 9%. Shocking, I know.

I love my city, but I strongly feel that the majority of it could be better served. Promote growth not only economically but regarding quality of life and opportunity as well.

I don't know if you would find this relevant but life experience has instilled the urge to state that I am a 24 year old, black male from a single mother household with an income of $40k. When writing, people tend to think I am white, it's a tad annoying.
 

Bartow, Florida

A small Florida town that's the seat of Polk County-- the center of Florida's phosphate mining, citrus, and cattle industries (that lattermost, unit the advent of Disneyworld, and the exodus of the stock to Texas)...  now, a still-small town, perched at the far-eastern edge of Tampa's suburbs... about as far from a beach as one can be on the peninsula.  

Flanked by Lakeland the county's commercial and industrial hub) and Winter Haven (its tourist center), Bartow clings to its government role(s), even as it is home to lots of bright-red political sentiment...  It is among the counties that (still) lead the nation in "homes under water" since the 2008 mortgage crisis.

Bartow has been home to lots of interesting folks, from Spessard Holland (Governor, then long-time Senator) and Chesterfield Smith (the man who build Holland and Knight-- a Bartow law firm that grew to become one of the world's largest-- and the ABA President who opened the org to women and people of color)

Kirksville, Missouri.

--The biggest deal in town is Truman State University. At one time it was a regional, less selective public university called Northeast Missouri State University (the ones in the other three corners and the "Central" one have not changed their names or mission).  In the 1980s, the legislature passed (and John Ashcroft, thankfully, signed) legislation giving it a special mission to deliver something like the liberal arts education one might get at a private school, but at a much lower cost.  They regularly make US News ranking lists (note that the tuition at the other nine of that top ten list is at least four times Truman's); and their official mission, adopted in 2007, is to be "America's premier public liberal arts and sciences university".  A recent Truman graduate who is making some waves in the literary world is Prajwal Parajuly.

--Osteopathic medicine was founded here by Andrew Taylor Still; his namesake medical school (ATSU) is still here (Geraldine Page, as it happens, was born here due to her father being a professor at the school); and they recently finished building a dental school that will admit its first class in just a few weeks.

--Rhonda Vincent, who the WSJ called "the new queen of bluegrass", with her past seven albums reaching either #1 or #2 on the bluegrass charts, is from here and still lives in the area.  Her family sponsors the yearly Sally Mountain Bluegrass Festival north of town.

--Not only are we many miles from any interstate, until less than a decade ago there was not even a four lane highway connected to Kirksville in any direction.  This was a pretty intolerable situation for residents when we wanted to go out of town, for college students, and for economic development as well.  And it was just plain dangerous and scary.  So when MODOT back-burnered plans to expand Route 63 to four lanes and a median until 2020 or later, the city got a referendum passed for local sales taxes to pay for part of the cost.  An innovative public-private partnership was formed, and we got our divided highway pushed up to the front of the line.  MODOT just got paid back this summer, in fact, nine months ahead of schedule.

--If you fly in after August 26, you'll be under the aegis of our brand new airport director, as announced in a news story yesterday.  He mentions in the interview that "the partnership that Kirksville has with Cape Air has been a huge success".  That was something I was kind of proud of our town about: when this service (daily flights to and from St. Louis) debuted, there was sort of a challenge thrown down to the area residents.  If we could keep the passenger volume up above a certain amount, we could qualify for an ongoing federal subsidy to make the flights affordable.  One of those United Way style "thermometer" signs was erected on the courthouse lawn (right by where they hold the Friday night concerts and Saturday morning farmer's market in the warm months) to keep track of progress.  I wasn't sure at first if the area would support it, but we ended up blowing the top right off that scale and continue to benefit from that service (and that federal subsidy, that is periodically jeopardised by the lunacy of the House GOP).

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/08/what-is-special-about-my-town-fayetteville-bartow-kirksville/278753/