July 29, 2021

July 29, 2021
Our summer headline is that the trusty Cirrus, N435SR, which has flown us on Our Towns journeys since 2013, passed its annual inspection and is now back in the air. We flew north from Washington DC, through the mid-Atlantic states and along the incomparably stunning coast of Maine, landing at Knox County airport in Downeast Owls Head. Several lobster rolls later, we are in nearby Bucksport, to learn about their citizen-led Community Heart & Soul initiative to improve quality of life for its 5000 residents. More on their 82 projects (yes, 82!) soon. Earlier in July, Jim was in his hometown of Redlands, California for the annual Esri User Conference. Esri, as featured in the Our Towns the HBO documentary, develops software for the world to address problems and issues through geospatial mapping solutions. Jim and Esri president, Jack Dangermond, and former head of National Geographic, Gary Knell, discussed a topic on our minds, newly-emerging geo-journalism. Their conversation ranged broadly about the potential of mapping to enrich reporting and journalism. And it focused seriously on the early-stage need to develop in a transparent and responsible way.Before that, we tracked a local journalism story in the small town of De Smet, South Dakota, which Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will certainly recognize. When the more than century-old local papers in De Smet and nextdoor Lake Preston folded, citizen volunteers rallied to roll out a new two-community weekly online and print paper, which has been successfully publishing now for over a year. We are, as always, grateful for you sharing this journey with us. Until next time, stay up to date with our travels on social

Deb & Jim Fallows

Aerial view of coastal Maine from our Cirrus, N435SR, Saturday, July 24.

  Reports from the Road and Sky

Why Maps Matter Starting in Childhood and Even More Now
In the first installment of a series of dispatches from the Esri User Conference in Redlands, Jim Fallows reflects on why maps have played such an important role in his own imaginative life and on the potential for geo-journalism to expand storytelling, connection, and knowledge-sharing, rather than misinformation, in the technology space.

A New Citizenry Around Truth
Mapping technology is at a promising and perilous early decision point. Will this technology continue the trajectory of other technology sectors, such as social media, and be breeding grounds for the spread of misinformation? In his second installment from the Esri User Conference, Jim shares a video clip in which the former head of National Geographic, Gary Knell, and the founder and head of the Esri mapping company, Jack Dangermond, make an unprecedented declaration to combat misinformation and encourage their mapping colleagues to stand up for the honesty, the responsibility, and the honor of their craft.

The Rise of the Kingsbury Journal and the Future of Local JournalismThe story of towns losing their local journalism outlets is a familiar one. Jim Fallows reports on how two communities in South Dakota came together after the closure of their longstanding local papers to develop an unconventional approach to a volunteer publishing alternative in the Kingsbury Journal.

 Voices from America

Meet Erie:Part IV – Social Impacts of a PandemicIn the final “Meet Erie” (watch parts I-III here) installment, Jessica and Nick Taylor explore how the pandemic exposed systematic issues, including racial inequality and community and police relations that have been present in Erie — and the nation — for a long time. Read Ben Speggen’s writeup on how Erie has grappled with questions surrounding justice and equity amidst a devastating pandemic and watch the video embedded in the post or here on our YouTube channel.  

Organizational Irony in Small Town USAWhat could a look at the paradoxes of power and failed leadership teach communities, and what recommendations could come from a closer study that might lead to changes in practice at the community level?Carl W. Hunt and Lawrence A. Kuznar from Paradoxes of Power wrestle with these ideas in part I of the essay series featured in Our Towns’ Voices of America section. Stay tuned for parts II-V.

 From Your Towns to Our Inbox

The July “Our Towns” Reader Response Roundup features film screening feedback, a unique effort to support libraries nationwide, and national perceptions that can be addressed by looking at the local level.
We want to hear from you – the Our Towns Community. Write in to our team at  ourtownsfoundation@gmail.com or tag us on social media – Twitter/Instagram @ourtownscivfdn – to fill us in on your response to the Our Towns journey. 

 Our Towns in the Media

If you are flying United Airlines, you may notice that Our Towns the HBO documentary is reaching new heights, literally!
Our Towns hit the skies July 15, this time as an in-flight viewing option.

Jim and Deb Fallows sat down with Whitney Kimball Coe of “Everywhere Radio,” a podcast produced by The Daily Yonder, to talk about the “Our Towns” story in the on-going Red-State-Versus-Blue-State narrative that continues to grip the nation. Listen to the episode here.

See the “Our Towns: Meet Erie” Series featured in Real Clear Public Affairs curation of “noteworthy research, analysis, commentary, and news stories” in Pennsylvania.

In “Creating a Sense of Us,” Jim and Deb Fallows speak with Chris Walsh and William McKenzie from the George W. Bush Institute about a few core areas of the Our Towns story: the role of libraries and journalism in catalyzing community engagement. 

 What We’re Reading
The Progress Network | The Progress Network’s multidisciplinary team of contributors are convinced that progress is possible, and their weekly newsletter shares a dose of hopeful news. Their recent piece on the Threads of Texas research project details how Texas can serve as a proxy for how communities can stay unified despite experiencing substantial change and growth. Subscribe to their newsletter here

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