What I’m reading: books on community, revitalization, economics and food
It’s been awhile since I curated a list of books I’m reading, or have recently read, related to local government or other current local topics.
Generally, I avoid writing in the first person as it goes against what, to me, journalism is.
But, I’m reading a book now that stands out and it felt appropriate to share with you readers, as well as a few others I’ve managed to finish in recent months.
What I’m currently reading
Our Towns, by James and Deborah Fallows.
James Fallows is a journalist for The Atlantic and his wife, Deborah is a linguist and writer. They traveled 100,000 miles across the U.S. over several years visiting communities to see what’s working and uniting communities versus dividing them.
Some of the cities they visit are comparable in size, as well as some other factors, to Great Falls.
I’m only 100 pages in to the book, but my take-aways so far have been that communities that rebounded from the loss of a major industry, or other economic struggles, have focused on their strengths and played to them through strong community leaders and public-private partnerships. In many cases, tipping points didn’t come from the local government, but from active community members with a vision who were willing to take action.
Again, I’m only 100 pages in, but this stood out to me on page 76: “We thought about what we had learned, which began with momentum and extended to the power of the local. We realized, of course, the limits. ‘Positive attitude,’ civic responsibility, and what I have come to think of as local patriotism matter only so much when matched against the large forces of geography, of demographics, of economic change. In Eastport, the location on the Bay of Fundy was a fundamental plus, because of its unique tidal flows. But the town’s distance from centers of wealth was a perhaps insuperable challenge. Could younger, better educated people really be lured that far away from the benefits increasingly concentrated in larger cities? These limits are real: no amount of positive thinking can change a city’s location or, at least in the short run, offset its demographic or transportation obstacles. But-and where we come to the positives- the father we went on this journey, the more impressed we became with the importance of the stories people tell themselves about their city’s or region’s success. They have to think of themselves as a city-a distinct region and culture, not as part of an urban sprawl. The places we’ve been most definitely have a sense of themselves as distinct entities, with their own traits and strengths.”
I met the Fallows’ at the Main Street conference in Seattle in March and nerded out a bit while they signed by copy. I would certainly recommend reading their book.
During their journey that became the book, James Fallows published this list of 11 signs a city will succeed.
Makers and Takers by Rana Forhoohar.
I’m not far into this one, started it on the plane back from the downtown conference in March and it’s dense. It’s a detailed look at the impacts of the finance industry on Main Street America and smaller companies. It will likely take me awhile to finish this one, but seems to address a number of issues at play globally, nationally and here in Montana.
The Walmart Effect by Charles Fishman. An interesting look at the impact Walmart has had on smaller, local retailers as well as other corporate retailers and global economics.
I won’t lie, this one took me almost a year to finish, but certainly worth the effort if you have any interest in economics and the retail landscape.
Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard. A look inside the chicken industry, particularly highlighting Tyson Foods, and the impact of industrial, corporate food production on our food supply, rural America and smaller farming operations.
It’s available at the Great Falls Public Library.