What She Found In A Thousand Towns

A love letter to some great places.

When it comes to great books, I’m on a roll.
I just finished “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” by Dar Williams.
Ms. Williams is a critically acclaimed folk singer. I don’t know much about her music although I plan to fill that deficit as soon as I can find the time.
But she’s a good writer and an even better observer of towns.
The book chronicles what Williams learned visiting 1,000 or so towns as a traveling musician for the past thirty years.
Not content to hang out in green rooms and hotels when she’s on the road, Williams has become an urban expert of sorts. She knows what makes towns work and her book is a travelogue of places I now yearn to visit.
Places like Moab, Utah, Beacon, NY and Phoenixville, Pa.
Her insights are smart and refreshing.
She doesn’t advocate large scale transformations —stadiums, spending huge on luring Amazon to your town etc. –but she does talk about the importance of coffee shops, performance spaces, walking trails, art and projects that bring people together.

She coins two important phrases: positive proximity and conscious bridgers.
Both are important to creating special places.
Positive proximity refers to activities, places and initiatives that bring people together.
They could be hills for sledding, playhouses, art centers, great parks, coffee shops etc.
It’s important for towns to have these places. They build community, create relationships and lead to all sorts of cool outcomes.
Conscious bridgers refer to people in your towns who connect people to others. They are alchemists, initiators, starters—sort of like community spark plugs— essential for ignition.
I’ve seen both positive proximity and conscious bridgers since becoming passionate about cities some time ago.
If you have both magic happens.
If you have a deficit in these areas…well let’s just say your town will suffer.
So encourage great places that bring people together and activities that encourage collaboration and teamwork.
And when you find a connector, embrace her and let her connect you. You won’t regret it and that’s how great towns happen.

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