FIVE SURPRISES FROM "OUR TOWNS"
1. COLUMBUS IS BIGGER THAN CLEVELAND: Unless you live in Ohio, all you hear about the state is Cleveland, Cleveland... But while that city makes headlines for basketball and crime, Columbus has grown to more than a million people and is doing quite well, thank you. Collaboration in Columbus -- in business, schools, government, philanthropy -- is so common that it is called "collab."
2. A THRIVING PORT IN EASTPORT, MAINE: America's easternmost city fell on hard times in the 1990s. But locals have taken advantage of their location -- closer to Europe than any other American port -- to become a busy port city. "The port is breathtaking in its magnitude and larger-than-life operations," the Fallows write. Eastport also hosts a growing art museum and, thanks to enormous tides in the Bay of Fundy, an upstart industry in tidal power.
3. ECO-REVIVAL IN GEORGIA: Thirty years ago St. Mary's, Georgia was filthy, its waters polluted by a local paper mill. The mill is gone, and "the city is unrecognizably different now." Spanish moss has returned to the trees. Downtown is thriving. The local high school is a model throughout the state.
4. ART, ART, ART: New bronze statues in Greenville, SC, in Rapid City and Holland, MI telling the story of the town. Artist co-ops in Columbus, OH and San Bernardino, CA. Murals and decorative park benches, art openings and small galleries from coast to coast.
5. STEEL STACKS IN ALLENTOWN: Well, not in Allentown because those steel mills Billy Joel sang about were nearby, in Bethlehem. Closed in the 1980s, they have been turned into Steel Stacks, "an artsy-spooky industrial-Stonehenge backdrop for rock, folk, and country music acts, with "historic' tours into the steel mill's ruins, plus an art gallery."