Our Towns Civic Foundation is an IRS-certified 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, founded on the idea and belief that the sources of American renewal are mainly at the community level. The purpose of the foundation is to make the success of a renewal era more probable. Toward this end we will report on and share the stories of local innovators; distill and share the lessons of their successes (or failures); promote connections among like-minded people around the country, in virtual and real-world venues; encourage new journalistic models (and technologies) to cover local stories and their implication; and in other ways to help now-disconnected innovators and reformers realize that they’re part of something larger.


The ideas behind the foundation draw from our reporting and writing about towns around the country since 2013; from our 2018 book, Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America; and from our 2021 HBO documentary, Our Towns, based on the book.


Since 2013, Deborah and James Fallows have traveled to small communities in every part of the country that have faced economic shocks, political crises, or other serious hardships. Each place they went, they talked with teachers, business creators, mayors, religious leaders, students, artists and architects, librarians, and others involved in shaping their community’s future. As they traveled across the country, at low altitude in a little propeller airplane, they saw the patterns of river and hill that explain the pattern of American settlement. On the ground, they saw the emerging pattern of American reinvention – through the stories collected here.


OUR TOWNS is a 2021 HBO documentary, based on the book Our Towns. The movie was filmed in eight of the towns reported on in the book. It was filmed over about two years, and completed just before the pandemic broke out in 2019. The multiple-award-winning directors are Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, of West City Films. Deborah and James Fallows are executive producers.



Deborah Fallows is a writer and linguist. She has written extensively on language, education, families and work, China, and travel for The Atlantic, National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Monthly. She has been a fellow at New America and a senior research fellow at the Pew Research Center.

For four years, Deborah and her husband, writer James Fallows, crisscrossed the country in their small plane, reporting for The Atlantic on the civic and economic renewal of America’s towns. Their book about the project, Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America, a New York Times bestseller, was published by Pantheon in May, 2018, and in paperback by Vintage books one year later.

Deborah has served as a director of data architecture for Oxygen Media. Previously, she was Assistant Dean and Assistant Director of Admissions at Georgetown University. Her 2010 book, Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, is based on her 3-year experience living and working in China.

Deborah Fallows and her husband have two married sons and five grandchildren.

For speaking requests, please contact the David Lavin Agency.


James Fallows is a longtime writer for The Atlantic magazine. He has reported for the magazine from around the world since the late 1970s, including extended assignments in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, and within the United States in Texas, Washington state, and California. He has written 12 books and won the American Book Award, the National Magazine Award, and a documentary Emmy. He has also done extensive commentary on National Public Radio. He now hosts a Substack site, called Breaking the News.

For the past several years he and his wife, the writer Deborah Fallows, have been traveling through smaller-town America and reporting on innovation of all sorts. Their book on the project, Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America, a New York Times bestseller, was published by Pantheon in May, 2018.

James Fallows grew up in Redlands, California, studied American history and literature at Harvard, studied economics at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, and once worked in the White House as president Carter’s chief speechwriter.

For speaking requests, please contact the David Lavin Agency.


Ben Speggen serves as the Editorial Director at Our Towns Civic Foundation, where he helps capture and tell the stories of the people and places driving community renewal throughout the country.

Ben is the Vice President of the Jefferson Educational Society, a think tank based in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is also a Contributor Editor at the Erie Reader, the region’s alt. weekly publication, where he prior served as the publication’s founding Managing Editor from 2011 to 2015. He also hosted a community-affairs program on Erie’s NPR/PBS affiliate station.

Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, Ben grew up in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania in Carmichaels and went on to study literature, history, and journalism at Gannon University, where he also earned his master’s degree.


Shelli Stockton serves as the Operations Director at Our Towns Civic Foundation, where she helps coordinate marketing, events, and other outreach activities. 

She is the Director of Alumni & Community Relations at the University of Redlands and an actively engaged citizen of her hometown of Redlands, CA, serving on several non-profit boards and as the Chair of the Redlands Service Club Council. 

A native of Redlands, Shelli earned a degree in Communications from UCLA and a master’s degree from the College of William & Mary.


Unless otherwise noted, Our Towns stories are free to republish through a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Please review our complete Republishing Policy.


The home page image is a photo by Deborah Fallows of “A New Day in Old Birmingham,” a mural in the Birmingham, Alabama public library, painted by Dr. Ronald McDowell. For more about Dr. McDowell and his work, see his site here. For more about the library and the mural, see the library’s site, here.

The Communities That Work page image is a photo by ARTxLOVE of the @PLAY Bubble Fest in Akron, Ohio.

This site has been developed by the team at Bitwise Industries.


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Our Towns Foundation is supported by the generosity of the following people:

Eric and Wendy Schmidt
Quint and Rishy Studer
And readers like you.