FIVE SURPRISES FROM "OUR TOWNS"

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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."

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