How does Frederick compare to other small cities when it comes to civic success? We feel particularly qualified to comment based on our extensive U.S. travel. Since 2011, we’ve crisscrossed the country together on seven occasions, driving through 33 states and visiting — or whizzing by — numerous towns and cities large and small.
Our observations are also confirmed by the informative book “Our Towns, A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America” by James and Deborah Fallows. Over three years, the Fallowses flew their small plane to visit 25 small cities across America.
We feel like they took the easy way. There’s nothing like long days driving hundreds of miles on the rural roads and old U.S. routes that weave a pattern across our nation and through its small towns. Also, you can tell a lot about a region by its roads; Mississippi, in our opinion, has the worst maintained roads in the nation.
Fallows and Fallows summarize 10½ factors, informed by their travels, that determine a community’s likelihood of “civic success”:
1. People work together on practical local possibilities (and ignore disagreements about national politics).
2. You can pick out the local patriots.
3. The phrase “public-private partnership” refers to something real.
4. People know the civic story.
5. They have downtowns.
6. They are near a research university.
7. They have, and care about, a community college.
8. They have distinctive, innovative schools.
9. They make themselves open.
10. They have big plans.
10½. Most “success” towns they visited had a least one craft brewery or distillery — which typically indicated the presence of both entrepreneurship and young people.
Frederick County’s “Livable Frederick” plan and the city of Frederick’s strategic plan make it clear that the area has big plans. The various advisory committees that wrote these ambitious blueprints are a who’s who of our “local patriots” who will see things through in the decades ahead.
Frederick has a strong, engaged community college as well as Hood College, and many of our neighbors work at NCI at Frederick. Fort Detrick houses three of the nation’s biosafety level-4 laboratories (fewer than 10 in the U.S.) conducting research on infectious diseases, national defense and homeland security. Our public schools are well-rated, and the LYNX program at Frederick High School may be the wave of the future in secondary education.
The DeArmons agree with most of the Fallowses’ 10½ points, though some are unknown to us since our visits to small towns are often brief. We’d also like to add three of our own:
(The News-Post will like this): A vibrant local newspaper. The paper is sometimes a weekly or bimonthly publication, not a daily, but when we buy it or grab it (sometimes it’s free) from a convenience store, some local reporter is covering city council meetings, and the pages are filled with local issues and events, big and small.
Roads, sidewalks, curbs and maybe even bike lanes are under construction or repair. This sign of progress is a stark contrast to towns in depressed areas of rural America falling into further and further disrepair.
Local museums or visitor centers. We make a point of visiting any visitor center or museum that crosses our path. When a local museum impresses us, the locale usually does, too. An appealing visitor center signals an engaged, proud community that knows how to market itself to visitors.
And that’s the outstanding factor in towns and small cities that set themselves apart as we travel: They’re taking advantage of whatever they have — local history, pioneer culture, unique agriculture — to tout their story, make themselves attractive, and draw tourists.
Frederick has so many advantages. Our hometown’s challenge going forward is to invest, take full advantage of our many assets and tell our story.