In the summer of 2013, my wife—Deb Fallows—and I began a project to visit smaller towns around the country—places that show up in the news usually only as backdrops for national-politics coverage, or when some human or natural disaster has struck—and to report on how schools, businesses, families, and civic life were faring “out there.”

Now we’re beginning the next stage of the journey. The guiding principle of this reporting is one we have developed—city by city, story by story, question by question, surprise by surprise—through our years of travel. The central premise is that the most positive and practical developments in this stage of American life are happening at the local and regional level—but that most Americans have barely heard of those developments except in the communities where they themselves live.

Of course the paralysis and division of national politics matter. Of course every community has its entrenched problems, of which the opioid and addiction crisis is the most acute and racial injustice is the most intractable. Any view of this nation, at any point, will include the tragic and the inspiring.

But the underappreciated and potentially useful news of this moment is the extent of locally based renewal and experimentation, directed at many of the same challenges that now seem practically hopeless from a national perspective. That is the theme we hope to explore here.

Our Towns

Washington, DC

Angola, IN

A Community Finding a Path Forward

Last month we traveled by car through several cities in Indiana, in a project organized jointly by New America Indianapolis, where our main partner was Molly Martin, and Indiana Humanities, as part of their new two-year-long INseparable program intended to foster conversations across the usual partisan divides. There we worked mainly with the IH director Keira Amstutz and the community-engagement director Leah Nahmias.

West Point, Mississippi

Sponsor ContentGrow With Google

Pikeville, KY

Columbus, MS

Winters, CA

Fort Wayne, IN

Muncie, IN

San Bernardino, CA

Building for the Future, in California’s Famously Failed City

Today’s Los Angeles Times has a big take-out by Joe Mozingo, with photos by Francine Orr and extensive online graphics, about the ongoing woes of San Bernardino, California. The city’s problems, as we’ve set out in previous installments, have been a heartbreaking vicious-cycle combination of economic misfortune worsened by political dysfunction. Over the past generation, San Bernardino has lost every one of its traditional big sources of blue-collar employment: a steel mill, a railroad yard, the commerce related to a major Interstate (before it was relocated 15 miles west), and then an enormous Air Force base.

Louisville, KY

Why the Maker Movement Matters

In the first entry in this series, I discussed why the Maker Movement, sometimes dismissed as quaint and cutesy by people not familiar with it, should in fact be taken seriously as the source and stimulus for the next wave of manufacturing innovation.

St. Marys, GA

High School in Southern Georgia: What ‘Career Technical’ Education Looks Like

Earlier this month my wife and I spent about a week, in two visits, in the little town of St. Marys, Georgia, on the southernmost coast of Georgia just north of Florida and just east of the Okefenokee Swamp. It’s a beautiful and historic town, which is best known either as the jumping-off point for visits to adjoining Cumberland Island National Seashore or for the enormous Kings Bay naval base, which is the East Coast home of U.S. Navy’s nuclear-missile submarine fleet and which is the largest employer in the area.

Our Towns