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Our Towns Flyer #YearInRenew2022
A look back at trends and stories from 2022.
Holiday cheer and thanks to all of you who encourage us with your enthusiasm and generosity throughout the year.
Our Towns is privileged to report on people around the country who put their energy into countless creative projects. We’re wrapping up 2022 with a month-long “Year in Renew” campaign across our social media platforms that is featuring 22 stories of 2022, which we also included on our website.
In podcast updates, we published an Inside Our Towns episode with Josh Fryday, the Chief Service Officer of California, on the statewide initiative of student volunteerism, and featured a writeup from The Daily Yonder on the new “Reimagine Rural” podcast from Tony Pipa and The Brookings Institution.
We’ve published a report from three Community Heart & Soul® towns on how broad collections of hard-to-reach residents’ ideas make for stronger town leadership, and we shared reporting from Grist on how one foundation in Georgia is using a new technology to map unused acreage along highways to install solar panels, plus shared another report from The Daily Yonder on the impact of the push for electric ag equipment in rural Oregon.
Here are some of the stories from the past year that we think signal bigger trends:
CIVIC ATTENTION: RIGHTING WRONGS AND STARTING OVER.
Pensacola, Florida uncovered the history of a town father and founder, and began a process of reparations to the Black community, which bore the costs of his racist methods.
Mt. Holly Springs, in southern Pennsylvania, restored a small bramble-hidden Black church and a nearby cemetery to celebrate the spirit and lives of its early residents.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa pulled together after a trifecta of two floods and a derecho to rebuild the town’s downtown cultural showplaces and its housing in the poorest and hardest-hit residential areas. The town is planting an astonishing 42,000 thousand trees to replace 70% of those lost. Cedar Rapids bravely embraced the devastation not to simply renew, but as city leaders say themselves, to start over from scratch.
Other towns are picking up where they left off during the worst of Covid, in their town traditions and renewal, like tiny Mount Blanchard, Ohio.
BOWLING TOGETHER: INSTITUTIONS AND VOLUNTEERS SPOT THE NEEDS AND DO THE WORK.
Community banks and foundations, which have local knowledge and financial wherewithal, step up to support change in health care, education, agricultural methods, transportation, you name it. We saw such inspiration in the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation in Ohio, the Lilly Endowment in Indiana, the Innovia Foundation in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, the Tower Community Bank in Jasper, Tennessee, the Arras Foundation in South Carolina, and the Hawaii Executive Collaborative across the islands of Hawaii.
On smaller scale, public libraries invented ways to strengthen the pulse of their towns, from Mt. Holly Springs and Dillsburg in Pennsylvania, to Keene, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Even smaller groups of volunteers are being models of replicable sustainability efforts, punching above their weight to monitor sea turtle nesting in southwest Florida, ban gas-powered leaf blowers in D.C., restore a butterfly habitat in Bellevue, Iowa, and, of course, plant trees.
DIY: EVERYONE IS A MAKER.
It feels like a movement. Public libraries have expanded maker spaces, with tools to lend or use in the flagship Martin Luther King Jr. library in D.C., and in the newly-reopened, drop-dead-gorgeous library in Charleston, West Virginia. The school system in Bellevue, Iowa, renovated a button factory into a workspace where students imagine and build.
Individuals have opened workspaces, like Tom Bodett’s in Brattleboro, Vermont. Distilleries are moving in next door to the ubiquitous craft breweries, or in backyards, as we saw in western Kentucky. The Craftsmanship Quarterly reports on many artisans and their crafts.
RECONSIDERING BUSINESS AS USUAL: HOW TO REPURPOSE AND RECONNECT.
A former prison has become a farm run by at-risk youth in Laurinburg, North Carolina. A development consortium in South Dakota challenged its membership to rethink their annual conference with novel, fresh ideas for group action. Media outlets (like ours!) shared original reporting via a republishing model to reach broader audiences. This is language in action: reconsider, repurpose, reconnect, rethink, republish. Words with positive prefixes trump those with negative ones, like deny, decline, defend, destroy.
... AND, OUR TOWNS HAS BEEN BUSY, TOO.
We are excited to be using Esri StoryMaps as a way to tell more nuanced stories through maps, photos, graphics, and text. We are making podcasts to hear from people telling their own stories and talking with each other. We are forging partnerships with those who have complementary approaches to ours. We are republishing some special stories we spot, and, of course, we are continuing our own original reporting.
Enjoy your holidays. Thank you for being part of our community.
BY BEN SPEGGEN
In the spirit of the moment – a time of reflexive reflection at the year’s end – the Our Towns team is looking back at 22 stories of people driving and inspiring renewal nationwide that we have featured on our website over the year to bring you: #YearInRenew2022.
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COMMUNITIES THAT WORK
BY JORDAN SANDMAN
When community members can’t, or don’t, or won’t, go to town halls to attend local government meetings, elected officials in Bucksport, Maine; Dillsburg, Pennsylvania; and Meadville, Pennsylvania, have found an innovative way to go to their constituents.
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BY EVAN SANFORD
National division might grab headlines, but the story of uniting citizens through service in California is growing. Josh Fryday, Chief Service Officer of California, joins Evan Sanford, host of Inside Our Towns, to discuss how these programs are driving hope and change.
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BY EMILY JONES, GRIST
A partnership between a team at the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s sustainable highway project, known as The Ray, and Esri have developed a free digital tool to help transportation departments realize solar projects.
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BY CLAIRE CARLSON, THE DAILY YONDER
Are electric tractors the future for farmers in the Pacific Northwest? Learn how one organization is providing a rideshare program to help farmers in Oregon control costs and embrace sustainability.
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BY KRISTI EATON, THE DAILY YONDER
Tony Pipa, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Sustainable Development, leads the “Reimagine Rural” podcast. The series highlights changes happening in rural America along with stories of diversity, renewal, and innovation.
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