EDITOR’S NOTE | By Bret Bradigan
Politics Aside, Small Towns Show Surprising Resilience
James Fallows took a years-long road trip into the heartland of America with his wife Deb for his most recent piece in the Atlantic, “The Reinvention of America.” The story is tied to a book they are about to publish, “Our Towns: A 100,000-mile Journey into the Heart of America.”
The main point of the article (and book) is “that a time of genuinely serious problems for the country, to economic polarization to the opioid disaster, and of near-historic crisis in national-level government, city-by-city many Americans feel as if the direction of personal, economic and public life is positive rather than negative.”
This optimism is a deeply contrary position to stake out these days. But Fallows is one of this country’s most esteemed journalists. Whatever issue he delves into, you can be sure it will be thoughtfully, often lyrically, structured with a sturdy armature of facts.
He cites example after example of revitalized downtown cores, where younger millennials “have an energizing effect.” Even more, people in these small towns are civically engaged and conservation-minded, both the younger, newer cohorts and the old-timers. There’s a lot of cultural exchange going back and forth which promote deeper understandings.
There are lessons here for Ojai. One, we should recognize that our town is already a model of civic participation and engagement. From the 190+ nonprofit groups to the often raucous city council meetings, Ojai is a place where people take action and exude pride. Small-town life is not a spectator sport.
The clouds of anxiety that trouble our national psyche make it hard to feel that things are getting better; that local communities are indeed pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. One small, but illustrative example is the much-loved and well-used Libbey Park Playground. A joint effort of the entire community, it serves as a perfect example of how citizens can work with city staff to get things done.
These are entirely nonpartisan efforts, with ideals of conservative self-reliance and liberal community action both represented. In these cities across America, people are getting things done on a local, livable scale that is indeed making our nation stronger and more whole. Sometimes, we need to look at the small picture to see what’s being obscured by the mayhem of the big picture.