In the spirit of the moment – a time of reflexive reflection at the year’s end – the Our Towns team is looking back at some of the stories of local-level ideas that are driving and inspiring renewal nationwide that we have featured on our website over the year to bring you: #YearInRenew2022.
I first wrote about our campaign here.
We are providing the re-caps on our website as another way to interact with the campaign’s content being shared daily across our social media platforms, which you can find and follow and connect with here, and here, and here, and here. The #YearInRenew2022 began Saturday, Dec. 10, when we announced we’d be sharing 22 stories over 22 days featuring 22 ideas of American renewal, and is being drawn to a conclusion Dec. 31 on those platforms.
You will see each of the posts here, but visiting your social media platform of choice to see these stories presented there is well worth your time. The thought-provoking graphics are inviting and offer a fuller experience for the campaign.
This list of 22 is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. Our team published nearly 60 new dispatches, reports, podcasts, StoryMaps, and more this year.
Nor is this list a countdown, or a count-up, in the vein of a ‘best of…’ grouping or classification. To us, our first post is just as important as the last, as well as those in between, and those still available on our website but not featured here, including the more than some 500 additional posts from past years’ reporting.
This list is a chance for us to share and to highlight the innovation and collaboration playing out at the local level, where we’ve seen residents and leaders alike experimenting in various ways but all in the shared spirit of working to improve their towns and build up their communities.
Our team is excited for what lies ahead in 2023, and how Our Towns will continue to serve as a platform to tell the stories of American renewal and be a gathering place to connect those driving progress in the places they call home. For now, we look back at what we’ve seen, as we will soon look ahead to what’s to come.
0: The number of gas-powered leaf blowers that can be sold or used in Washington, D.C.
What started as a small neighborhood group turned into a civic-engagement movement that led to the D.C. City Council unanimously banning the gas-powered leaf blowers.
Read the full story here: “Bringing a City Together: How Leaf Blowers Did It.”
“The time for ally-shoring is right now.”
International relationships can benefit the U.S. locally, nationally, and globally. Elaine Dezenski and John Austin make the case for how “ally-shoring” can strengthen democracy while creating jobs at the local level.
Read the full story here: ‘Ally-shore’ to Restore U.S. Economic Leadership and Protect Democracy.
300: The number of stories yielded by the OurStoryBridge model (as of February 2022).
How do communities share their stories with future generations? Allie Kuroff explores how OurStoryBridge, an innovative storytelling platform, is being used to capture and share community stories around the country.
Read the full story here: Building Bridges within and among Communities through Stories.
Galesburg, Illinois residents are rebuilding their town with a focus on “quality of life.”
Allie Kuroff reports on how a one-time industrial center is making efforts to improve quality of life and reverse the town’s economic fortunes.
Read the full story here: Galesburg Residents Revitalize ‘Appliance City’ by Focusing on ‘Quality of Life’
How to transition from the youth exodus worry to action?
Deborah Fallows shares ideas on how to engage youth in communities, with examples from Community Heart & Soul, Jason Neises, and others.
Read the full story here: Fountains of Youth for Towns
Raising HIV Awareness through barbershops.
For decades, Lawrence Tolliver’s barbershop has been a destination for biweekly fades and shaves. It’s also a place where patrons can get access to healthcare information.
As Patrick Waechter reports, Tyrik Jackson is recruiting even more barbers with Fade Out HIV to use their shops to create safe spaces for conversations and information.
Read the full story here: A Safe Place to Talk: Raising HIV Awareness through Barbershops
30 million: The number of paper clips received for The Paper Clips Project, a memorial to represent those killed during the Holocaust.
Alex Bieler reports on the history of the Whitwell, Tennessee middle school project, its evolution, and how it has indelibly shaped the town’s identity.
Read the full story here: The Paper Clips Project: Students Bring Holocaust History to Southeastern Tennessee
“This type of storytelling really helped me recognize how different everyone’s stories are, and how they connect to form Mississippi’s culture.”
At the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Thomas Easterling assigned his students podcasts for research projects, for which Christina Zhang explored how a church in Biloxi, Mississippi serves as a space to share and celebrate Asian-American culture.
Read the full story here: Real Mississippi Podcasts: Having the Grace to Find a Sense of Place
“Living in small towns is not plan B.”
People aren’t trapped in rural America, but they do feel left behind sometimes. Jason Neises, Community Development Coordinator at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, joined “Inside Our Towns” podcast host and producer Evan Sanford to talk about the challenges and benefits of living in small towns and how Community Heart & Soul gives people the tools to improve their communities.
Listen to the full episode here: Inside Our Towns: Episode 1
How powerful stories are rebuilding a church — and a community.
Deborah Fallows reports on the story of Elias Van Buren Parker and how today’s telling of his story has had the power to pull the town of Mt. Holly Springs, Pennsylvania from its early glory days, then decline, back to new days of glory.
Read the full story here: How Powerful Stories are Rebuilding a Church
Just 20 years old.
That’s the age of Eastport, Maine’s Elijah Brice – lobsterman, aqua farmer, boat builder, entrepreneur – who I wrote about for Craftsmanship Quarterly in partnership with Our Towns.
Read the full story here: A Look at Lobstering and Craftsmanship
2,288: The number of residents interviewed for @Play, a 24-neighborhood, 18-month series of interactive art initiatives in Akron, Ohio.
Who knows a community better than the residents themselves? Alex Bieler writes about how Mac Love, with his creative agency, Art x Love, has taken a novel approach to making micro investments that stimulate positive change in the Akron and Cleveland area – identifying opportunities for improvement through direct community engagement.
Read the full story here: An Outsider Works with Insiders: Examples from Akron and Cleveland
“We can assemble ourselves as community members and brainstorm ways to make the town better.”
That’s what Isaac Tucker, of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, told Jordan Sandman. When Isaac and his wife, Heidi, were renovating their home, they knew they wanted a big dining room. More than for parties, they wanted to have a space for the community to gather. Sandman reports on how that decision began a new chapter in Dillsburg and about the impact the Tuckers are making in their town.
Read the full story here: A Dining-room Meeting Begins a New Chapter in One Town’s Story
5,000-plus: The number of turtle nests found along Manasota Key, Florida’s 14 miles of sand beaches.
An outcome you might not expect: Deborah Fallows uses Esri’s ArcGIS StoryMaps to tell the story of sea turtle survival, and of how volunteer patrols are playing their part in supporting coastal life.
Read the full story here: Turning the Tides
“In a bigger sense, we can all help one another, and the state.”
What happens when a college makes meaningful contributions to the community it calls home? James Fallows looks at the impact Ball State University under the leadership of President Geoffrey Mearns, who spearheaded the university’s unprecedented involvement in Muncie, Indiana’s public K–12 system.
“A reporter’s dream—being young and being able to cover this felt like a big deal.” How a student newspaper became the community’s go-to source for local news.
What happens when a gap in local journalism emerges? Deborah Fallows reports, in partnership with The Washington Monthly, on how Ball State University’s student paper, The Ball State Daily News, stepped up to become a paper of record in Muncie, Indiana, providing nuanced coverage of the city’s public school system.
The Ball State Daily News has filled an important civic information gap. Deborah Fallows examined how a student newspaper stepped up in the community to provide Muncie nuanced coverage of the city’s public school system.
Read the full story here: A Student Newspaper Takes on Community Responsibilities
Repurposing, recycling, and rebuilding.
The three keys to Branch & Barrel Distilling’s approach. Carl Hunt writes about how the Centennial, Colorado distillery takes an active approach to sustainable business practices and is helping create an interdependent economy in its community.
Read the full story here: Uplifting American Spirits
“People think (West Virginia’s) greatest export is coal, but it’s not. It’s people — people are our greatest export, and I want to stop that.”
The 2020 Census revealed that West Virginia was one of the states losing population, but Tighe Bullock is working to change that. The accountant, lawyer, downtown developer, and construction contractor joined Inside Our Towns to discuss revitalization efforts in Charleston, West Virginia.
Listen to the full episode here: Inside Our Towns: Episode 5
One small Ohio town is practicing democracy in a big way.
The town of Mount Blanchard is located 60 miles south of Toledo. It is making big changes by embracing small improvements ranging from bookmobiles to new democratic processes through Community Heart & Soul. Deborah Fallows writes about how this resident-led approach is an example of democracy in action.
Read the full story here: How One Small Ohio Town Practices Democracy
One former bank building became a pre-K. Another former bank building, a library. Both are in the same town.
Vestiges of Kershaw’s past remain in and around the South Carolina town. Ben Speggen and Michelle Ellia visited and found a community embracing the Community Heart & Soul process and repurposing buildings of the past to build up its future.
Read the full story here: Kershaw Invests in Community with New Ideas in Old Spaces
67 acres: That’s the size of Scotland Correctional Institution, an abandoned prison outside Laurinburg, North Carolina, being transformed into a sustainable farm by at-risk youth.
What was once an eyesore is being turned into a community asset by Noran Sanford and his team of youth leaders. Sanford, an Ashoka fellow, founded Growing Change to see how flipping the prison can empower at-risk youth and support a community.
Read the full story here: Unlocking Potential
At midnight, Dillsburg, Pennsylvania’s local fire house drops a pickle from one of its fire trucks on New Year’s Eve. But there’s much more to Dillsburg than the story of a pickle.
The pickle is the well-embraced symbol of a community that’s working together to revitalize the town while intentionally preserving its distinct culture. Other towns – like Eastport, Maine, with its Sardine and Maple Leaf Drops – celebrate their past by looking back but embrace their futures by moving forward.
Read the full story here: A Town of Doers Works Together to Preserve Their Past and Plan Their Future
To check out all of Our Towns’ past reporting, from our most recent to the earliest writings, visit our archives.