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What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time

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A beloved folk singer presents an impassioned account of the fall and rise of the small American towns she cherishes Dubbed by the New Yorker as "one of America's very best singer-songwriters," Dar Williams has made her career not in stadiums, but touring America's small towns. She has played their venues, composed in their coffee shops, and drunk in their bars. She has see A beloved folk singer presents an impassioned account of the fall and rise of the small American towns she cherishes Dubbed by the New Yorker as "one of America's very best singer-songwriters," Dar Williams has made her career not in stadiums, but touring America's small towns. She has played their venues, composed in their coffee shops, and drunk in their bars. She has seen these communities struggle, but also seen them thrive in the face of postindustrial identity crises. Here, Williams muses on why some towns flourish while others fail, examining elements from the significance of history and nature to the uniting power of public spaces and food. Drawing on her own travels and the work of urban theorists, Williams offers real solutions to rebuild declining communities. What I Found in a Thousand Towns is more than a love letter to America's small towns, it's a deeply personal and hopeful message about the potential of America's lively and resilient communities.


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A beloved folk singer presents an impassioned account of the fall and rise of the small American towns she cherishes Dubbed by the New Yorker as "one of America's very best singer-songwriters," Dar Williams has made her career not in stadiums, but touring America's small towns. She has played their venues, composed in their coffee shops, and drunk in their bars. She has see A beloved folk singer presents an impassioned account of the fall and rise of the small American towns she cherishes Dubbed by the New Yorker as "one of America's very best singer-songwriters," Dar Williams has made her career not in stadiums, but touring America's small towns. She has played their venues, composed in their coffee shops, and drunk in their bars. She has seen these communities struggle, but also seen them thrive in the face of postindustrial identity crises. Here, Williams muses on why some towns flourish while others fail, examining elements from the significance of history and nature to the uniting power of public spaces and food. Drawing on her own travels and the work of urban theorists, Williams offers real solutions to rebuild declining communities. What I Found in a Thousand Towns is more than a love letter to America's small towns, it's a deeply personal and hopeful message about the potential of America's lively and resilient communities.

30 review for What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I wanted to read this through the lens of library spaces, and found some interesting tidbits. The only place I have visited that she mentions is Carrboro, NC, where she discusses the importance of cultivating an environments for artists, how artists come and others follow, how art creates bridges in a community. A few quotes I liked from the Moab chapter, perhaps most relevant to the strengths of our library: "At every turn, there was someone to point out another arch and a bend in the river. They I wanted to read this through the lens of library spaces, and found some interesting tidbits. The only place I have visited that she mentions is Carrboro, NC, where she discusses the importance of cultivating an environments for artists, how artists come and others follow, how art creates bridges in a community. A few quotes I liked from the Moab chapter, perhaps most relevant to the strengths of our library: "At every turn, there was someone to point out another arch and a bend in the river. They knew their town inside and out and took responsibility for it. That is positive proximity." "The camaraderie among people working in these places were clearly there, as were their helpfulness and pride." "Communities must always take care of their human needs and pay attention to their human economy as carefully as they facilitate the love of their landscapes."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    Admitted bias: I've loved Dar since I was thirteen, and have had the great fortune to get to know her in the thirteen years since. But even if that weren't the case, I'm confident I'd find this book just as wise and clear-eyed and instructive. A touring musician has a singular vantage point as she visits and returns to towns and cities over and over in the course of almost three decades of touring, and it's from that vantage point that Dar writes this book—a kind of ars poetica of urban theory—s Admitted bias: I've loved Dar since I was thirteen, and have had the great fortune to get to know her in the thirteen years since. But even if that weren't the case, I'm confident I'd find this book just as wise and clear-eyed and instructive. A touring musician has a singular vantage point as she visits and returns to towns and cities over and over in the course of almost three decades of touring, and it's from that vantage point that Dar writes this book—a kind of ars poetica of urban theory—so astutely, with great wit and insight.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I haven't read reviews of this book yet, but I suspect that what people think about this book will largely have to do with the reason they bought it. If you are like me, you bought it (or in my case, it was purchased for me) because I like Dar Williams, the singer, and wanted to go to her concert which was paired with this book. And sure, I'll give Dar a shot as an author. She's a great storyteller. However, right away I could tell this was going to be a long slog of a read. Because here's the t I haven't read reviews of this book yet, but I suspect that what people think about this book will largely have to do with the reason they bought it. If you are like me, you bought it (or in my case, it was purchased for me) because I like Dar Williams, the singer, and wanted to go to her concert which was paired with this book. And sure, I'll give Dar a shot as an author. She's a great storyteller. However, right away I could tell this was going to be a long slog of a read. Because here's the thing: this book is about city planning and urban development, which just so happens to be written by Dar Williams. It is not a book about how Dar Williams, the singer, experiences towns as a traveling musician. I suppose you could argue that I'm wrong, and I even think that what I described above was her intent. But the way it was executed just felt so clinical and not at all personal. It's not that it's a bad book, or that she didn't do the research, and it's even decently written. But right out of the gates, I found myself wondering what *Dar Williams* in particular was bringing to this story. You will not be charmed by the tales of a traveling bard seeing towns with fresh eyes. Instead, you will find jargony sentences that trip over themselves with definitions, like: "In order for the Detroit RiverWalk to function as a builder of positive proximity for all, the keepers of the peace must respond to diverse visitors. The 'safety' must feel truly safe." "What is an agrosphere? Technically it's called a foodshed." "Signs that welcome and signs that wayfind (a recently minted urban planning verb that means 'help us find our way') tell a lot about a city." Dar, I love you, but you didn't have to invent "positive proximity" to talk about common threads of thriving, wayfinding is a pretty common term, and how about you just call it a foodshed? I don't know, it's almost like she wanted to make sure that she came across as serious enough, or well informed enough, and the price we pay for that is that we have absolutely zero context for why we are hearing about these wonderful towns from this folk singer. There are a few moments where this personal connection comes through, mostly stacked later in the book. Hearing about the routine of what Dar does when she arrives in a town, or war stories about how various venues receive (gracefully or otherwise) folk musicians, or touring with Joan Baez and what that green room is like? Yes. Hearing about how a parents' group and a sledding hill are the cures for every town's ills? Not so much. Good for Dar for stretching beyond her defined bounds as a singer to flex her muscles as a writer. I don't mean to sound so harsh, but I would have enjoyed this book so much more if Dar had let herself, her folk-singing, babysitter having self, shine through this narrative more.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matt Deblass

    I've long been fascinated by the way that the arts, local business and government can come together to make a particular town work... or not. I've also been a longtime fan of Williams' music, so I figured this would be a great vacation read while I spent time exploring a new city. I wasn't wrong. While the author may have been introduced to the various places she's been as a traveling folk singer, it's very clear that she's taken the time to explore the history of the places she writes about, an I've long been fascinated by the way that the arts, local business and government can come together to make a particular town work... or not. I've also been a longtime fan of Williams' music, so I figured this would be a great vacation read while I spent time exploring a new city. I wasn't wrong. While the author may have been introduced to the various places she's been as a traveling folk singer, it's very clear that she's taken the time to explore the history of the places she writes about, and spent time interviewing some of the people behind the success stories she's seen. An interesting point she makes is that there's more to making a town or city a great living space than just money. True, employment is an important part of it, but often the better, and more fulfilling jobs in a community come from building a local ecosystem that links small business and community organizations (and, although she doesn't mention it, my own experience in the newspaper biz taught me that local businesses can feed a lot more into a town's economy than a large corporate entity, which sends a big chunk of its profits out of the area). She's got a lot of good observations and anecdotes that are not only really interesting for the reader, but may provide some ideas and inspiration for folks looking to build better connections in their own communities.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    noblesse oblige! readers' comments on amazon were snarky but incisive about the folk singer mentality, white and very liberal, biased and shot through with unexamined needs for idealism and self-congratulation not to speak of glaring hypocritical thinking (it sounds right on a gut level that the small town transformation of Beacon had less to do with preserving what was there before, than the importing of an artistic sophisticated New York point of view, also drops a line about how Pete Seeger sp noblesse oblige! readers' comments on amazon were snarky but incisive about the folk singer mentality, white and very liberal, biased and shot through with unexamined needs for idealism and self-congratulation not to speak of glaring hypocritical thinking (it sounds right on a gut level that the small town transformation of Beacon had less to do with preserving what was there before, than the importing of an artistic sophisticated New York point of view, also drops a line about how Pete Seeger spent 50 years trying to get things going there, then never mentions him again; one reader pointed out how condescending Williams appears, writing as she if she is a native when she's spent very little time in the towns she describes; This book shed absolutely no light on the process by which some towns are able to reinvent themselves, rather Williams focusses on individuals who brought their town back to life through a sense of civic responsibility and determined perseverance. read all chapters except the one on Gainesville, FLA and Middletown, CT; started scanning them after the chapter on Beacon, NY; 3 themes: the importance of physical spaces that invite social interaction, identity: either through history or geography, and translation, which to me was more about how you sell your town through the story you choose to tell about it, in other words, savvy PR

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    "Communities must always take care of their human needs and pay attention to their human economy as carefully as they facilitate the love of their landscapes." My book group chose to read this book because one of our members was lucky enough to hear Williams speak on this topic. I suspect I would have rather heard Ms Williams herself tell her ideas than reading a whole book based on what she has seen in various communities. There is nothing wrong with Williams’ ideas or the book. However, there is "Communities must always take care of their human needs and pay attention to their human economy as carefully as they facilitate the love of their landscapes." My book group chose to read this book because one of our members was lucky enough to hear Williams speak on this topic. I suspect I would have rather heard Ms Williams herself tell her ideas than reading a whole book based on what she has seen in various communities. There is nothing wrong with Williams’ ideas or the book. However, there is a lot of repetition in this book. Once I had read about one community’s success, I had a pretty good idea how the next community would work out their issues. Which leads to my other problem with these concepts. These communities were very similar – mostly white, mostly middle-class. I realize that Williams appeals to a particular group of people and so the places she would sing would look alike. It is probably too much to expect her to have tried to find some places that were more diverse. We had a good discussion and this book did make me think about my small town in some different ways. I am glad I read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    SundayAtDusk

    Make sure you carefully read the description of this book before getting it, and make sure you are highly interested in the topic. I was not. I guess, since the author is a singer-songwriter, I imagined the book was going to be more a memoir, where town planning was going to come up every now and then. No, town planning is it. While Dar Williams' book is neither too technical nor dry, it still bored me to tears reading about the things towns or cities did to improve the lives of their citizens. Make sure you carefully read the description of this book before getting it, and make sure you are highly interested in the topic. I was not. I guess, since the author is a singer-songwriter, I imagined the book was going to be more a memoir, where town planning was going to come up every now and then. No, town planning is it. While Dar Williams' book is neither too technical nor dry, it still bored me to tears reading about the things towns or cities did to improve the lives of their citizens. I'm truly happy for all those people and places, but I desperately wanted out of reading this book. Thus, three stars for a neutral rating, since I stopped reading long before the end. (Note: I received a free ARC of this book from Amazon Vine.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Agatha Lund

    I wrote about this in greater detail here: https://brandnewkindof.wordpress.com/... I wrote about this in greater detail here: https://brandnewkindof.wordpress.com/...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jdchaffe

    I especially enjoyed her chapters about Moab, Utah and Middletown, CT. As well as her explanation of 'Capitol-itis'. Interesting perspective about what allows a community to thrive--even if it's rather long in its explanations.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Melody Warnick

    One of my favorite singers wrote a book about basically the same kind of stuff I write about, so yeah, pretty thrilled.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eric Leonard

    I bought an binge-read the book in advance of a book signing event. It was insightful and provocative, and the text is drawn from the author’s own experience as a traveling musician. It made me think a lot about the communities I have lived in and what role positive proximity plays in creating and sustaining vibrant communities across the country.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This book has a few problems, most notably a title (actually, a subtitle) that misinforms the prospective reader what the book is about. The title is "What I Found in a Thousand Towns". By the way, there's nowhere near 1000 towns in this book, but that's not what I'm talking about. If that was the entire title, that would have been fine. The book is partly memoir, partly travelogue, and partly stories about her various friends, acquaintances, gigs, etc. There's a little bit about what makes town This book has a few problems, most notably a title (actually, a subtitle) that misinforms the prospective reader what the book is about. The title is "What I Found in a Thousand Towns". By the way, there's nowhere near 1000 towns in this book, but that's not what I'm talking about. If that was the entire title, that would have been fine. The book is partly memoir, partly travelogue, and partly stories about her various friends, acquaintances, gigs, etc. There's a little bit about what makes towns and cities work. But the subtitle "A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities - One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, & Open-Mike Night at a Time" misses the mark. There's very little actionable advice on how to rebuild a community, much less a "guide". What I got out of this book is the following: * Create "positive proximity", which I think is essentially have good stuff close to other good stuff. Create spaces that engage people. (Good advice.) * Make use of pre-existing assets such as proximity to a national park, availability of a riverfront, existence of a public attraction (museum, performance space, etc.), or famous residents. * Get people engaged. Embrace quirky people unless they happen to support the NRA or are Tea Party members. I've over-simplified the message, but I'm sorry. As someone who would like to do a little community rebuilding, most of this book is unhelpful. I can't create a nearby national park, I can't conjure up some fabulous facility like "Dia:Beacon" (an "internationally renowned museum") or Wesleyan University, and I can't persuade someone like Pete Seeger to move here. I could have read an article on "positive proximity", or maybe a 20 page summary, and gotten most of the useful advice on rebuilding communities out of it. So if you like Dar Williams or you like reading stories of random community projects, then this book might be for you. Personally, I found it to be a waste of time. Sorry, but that's my review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    I honestly could t get through this one... I’m not sure about this one... I generally like books about planning and cities but I’ve read the introduction and the first chapter (about Beacon, NY) and I’m not loving this. The book seems focused on ‘urban planning ideas affluent white people like’ and the world is clearly more complex than that. To be fair, I’ve only read the first chapter (Beacon, NY) and maybe issues like gentrification get addressed in a more serious manner in later chapters. Som I honestly could t get through this one... I’m not sure about this one... I generally like books about planning and cities but I’ve read the introduction and the first chapter (about Beacon, NY) and I’m not loving this. The book seems focused on ‘urban planning ideas affluent white people like’ and the world is clearly more complex than that. To be fair, I’ve only read the first chapter (Beacon, NY) and maybe issues like gentrification get addressed in a more serious manner in later chapters. Something that really bothered me about the chapter about Beacon, NY (admittedly a place I know nothing about) was that the discussion about gentrification centered on not pricing/pushing out the artists who “discovered”Beacon... there were obviously people living in Beacon before Dia arrived, what about them (maybe they’ve already been priced/pushed out...) Anyway, I’m going to try to give this a chance, but we’ll see...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    As a book about development and community building, this isn't saying anything particularly new and insightful. It's pleasantly conversational and jargon-free, but also kinda stays on the surface level of "here are some nice stories about things that succeeded." And that's not exactly a criticism, because when one of your favorite musicians writes about this stuff, you're definitely more into it for the anecdotes and the unique perspective of a touring artist than you are for any rigorous case s As a book about development and community building, this isn't saying anything particularly new and insightful. It's pleasantly conversational and jargon-free, but also kinda stays on the surface level of "here are some nice stories about things that succeeded." And that's not exactly a criticism, because when one of your favorite musicians writes about this stuff, you're definitely more into it for the anecdotes and the unique perspective of a touring artist than you are for any rigorous case study kind of content. Worth a read with that in mind, especially because she focuses on some towns (and parts of towns) that don't get a lot of press in the planning/development world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    Just finished. Really good. A lot of thoughts. But mostly still looking for a home bigger than my blog for my review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam Ford

    Dar Williams has been a favorite of mine since KPIG played her cover version of Wilder Than Her all the time back in the early 90s when I was studying Arabic at the DLI in Monterey. I came to love much of her other stuff--the Christians and the Pagans and the Babysitter and the Coed Crisis songs. Good stuff. Here Dar shares how she can tell if a town is healthy and alive and thriving, or if it is struggling and down and dying--and what makes the difference. It is thrilling and inspiring. The exa Dar Williams has been a favorite of mine since KPIG played her cover version of Wilder Than Her all the time back in the early 90s when I was studying Arabic at the DLI in Monterey. I came to love much of her other stuff--the Christians and the Pagans and the Babysitter and the Coed Crisis songs. Good stuff. Here Dar shares how she can tell if a town is healthy and alive and thriving, or if it is struggling and down and dying--and what makes the difference. It is thrilling and inspiring. The examples come one after another--the key ingredient in creating a vibrant healthy community is just a few people who care enough to do something, to reach out and invite others to join them, to get the ball rolling. Once the ball starts rolling, you need a community gathering space--often a coffee shop or a bar. If your coffee shop has a messy board filled with community announcements and people come there to work instead of staying at home huddled over their computer in isolation, you probably have a thriving town. If your town bar plays music too loud to talk over and is a place where people go to drink, you probably live in a dying town. In one New England town, a mother saw a hill with great sledding potential. She later saw a rural homesteader outside of town with a large mowing rig and asked him to mow down the weeds and brush on the hill. He did. She brought her kids when the snow fell. Other kids came. The PTA showed up and set up a table selling hot chocolate and then began signing up volunteers. The next year they expanded into a snow-cone shack. Then they opened a coffee shop downtown in some abandoned space. Then a gallery next door. Now there are a summer music festival and three galleries and hundreds engaged in the community on a weekly basis. And it was a dying industrial town with an emptying out downtown and a widespread drug problem among the youth. Things are much much better now. No one came in and saved them. They saved themselves, a little bit at a time, everyone stepping up occasionally in small ways that added up to an amazing transformation. Moab Utah is highlighted as a great community doing it the right way. It seems to me that Park City does a good job with this too. Even little Helper In much of Utah, with LDS wards providing such strong community and the Church requiring so much of member's time and resources, the organic cafe culture and artistic communities in Utah are often stunted and/or absent. Few active Mormons have time to build community in addition to serving in a significant church calling. Those not active in the LDS community often, therefore, suffer, feeling too often alone and isolated. I love the communities Dar explores in her book. I long to help build them and be a part of them. Full speed ahead.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    I’ve been thinking a lot about communities and how they form and what it means for people who live close together to come together and collaborate, so this book by a musician that I love seemed like a good thing to read. If you live in a place with fewer than 100,000 people (or better yet, fewer than 50,000) and maybe a university and some nature and history, and you want to get to know your neighbors and enliven your Main Street and develop some cool local gathering places or authentic communit I’ve been thinking a lot about communities and how they form and what it means for people who live close together to come together and collaborate, so this book by a musician that I love seemed like a good thing to read. If you live in a place with fewer than 100,000 people (or better yet, fewer than 50,000) and maybe a university and some nature and history, and you want to get to know your neighbors and enliven your Main Street and develop some cool local gathering places or authentic community-building events, then this is a completely perfect book. It almost made me want to move into an environment that had these ingredients. As an urban planner who works in a major city and who often feels the need to remain really neutral around neighbors that I vehemently disagree with, I struggled to find lessons. I was certainly inspired by the people and places that are profiled in the book and wanted to visit more than a few of the towns described. Yet, the more I tried to connect it to my own work, the more frustrated I grew — is something that should be a community asset here limited by the fact that it was created by laws and not grass roots mobilizing? Are events that only reach 100 people or 20 people effective when that’s only a tiny fraction of the population? Maybe I was pulling away the wrong takeaways. If stories of what big governments or big architecture/planning firms are doing feel too massive to undertake in your community, this could be the perfect book for you. I think that there’s a need to build a stronger conversation in urban planning around small cities and big towns. For me, it didn’t fill me up the way I’d hoped, but there were some tiny details that I picked up on and will run with.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Dar Williams brings out an interesting proposition in the concept of Positive Proximity, a feel-good elaboration on the geographic dictum that "things that are closer together are more alike than things that are farther apart." Part travelogue, part manifesto, the book is good for anyone interested in social geography. It sometimes gets weighed down by Williams' descriptions of local people or institutions (many, but not all of which are important.) There are few places where it drags though, an Dar Williams brings out an interesting proposition in the concept of Positive Proximity, a feel-good elaboration on the geographic dictum that "things that are closer together are more alike than things that are farther apart." Part travelogue, part manifesto, the book is good for anyone interested in social geography. It sometimes gets weighed down by Williams' descriptions of local people or institutions (many, but not all of which are important.) There are few places where it drags though, and Dar is a good writer with a knack for narrative, so the heavy interpersonal tangents can be a weakness, but an easily forgivable one. This book isn't for everyone, but is an easy and enjoyable read for touchy-feely geography types (I include myself in this category.) The premise is compelling, and my only other complaint is that it would be a little stronger from at least a little tie-in to similar academic literature on the same topic. There's plenty to pick from and it would only give added strength to Williams' quasi-academic arguement. Still, an enjoyable, positive-minded read that I would reccomend to most.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Harrison

    One of my recurring themes of thought so far this year has been how small to mid-size towns and cities grow, thrive, and remain prosperable. Whenever I think about a topic that I wish I understood more, I always think about how I just want to talk to a bunch of people about the thing, particularly people who are inimtately involved in it (for example, I’ve always wanted to write a book about bookstores, and I daydream about interviewing owners of bookstores.) To that point, Dar Williams’ provide One of my recurring themes of thought so far this year has been how small to mid-size towns and cities grow, thrive, and remain prosperable. Whenever I think about a topic that I wish I understood more, I always think about how I just want to talk to a bunch of people about the thing, particularly people who are inimtately involved in it (for example, I’ve always wanted to write a book about bookstores, and I daydream about interviewing owners of bookstores.) To that point, Dar Williams’ provided that insight when it came to the small towns she profiled. This was a book that, while I appreciate the insights Dar Williams has, and I respect her as an artist and mother and community member, I was underwhelmed by the quality of writing. This was one of the books I was probably most near to not finishing (granted, there are plenty of books that I start and don’t finish, so it was above those on the scale.) There was plenty of valuable anecdotal thought in what she wrote; just look how many quotes I highlighted below. But there are a lot better resources out there for developed urban thought and theory. Many thanks to the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle for exposing me to it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I picked this up because I love Dar's music and imagined this to be a book about observing and learning about small towns from a touring musician's perspective. And it is, technically, but it is really about *urban planning and development* from the perspective of someone who is really geeking out on urban planning and development and just happens to travel a bunch for their job. The distinction makes it different read than I was expecting. I am interested in some of this stuff, and I like learn I picked this up because I love Dar's music and imagined this to be a book about observing and learning about small towns from a touring musician's perspective. And it is, technically, but it is really about *urban planning and development* from the perspective of someone who is really geeking out on urban planning and development and just happens to travel a bunch for their job. The distinction makes it different read than I was expecting. I am interested in some of this stuff, and I like learning about other places and ways of drawing communities together. Parts of this were enjoyable to me, and other parts boring enough that I skimmed (I'm not a skimmer, generally). I also recognize the limitations of Dar's perspective (and expertise? It seemed like this was a thing she is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about, but in a non-professional capacity and of course, limited by her position as privileged, white, traveling observer.) I do enjoy her writing, but I didn't love this book. But if you want to get your small town urban planning nerd going, you might like this one!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    A fascinating book that engaged me right from the start. Dar Williams shares her observations about the relationships between people in a community, and their town's geography , history, and physical structure. Dar's career as a musician and singer-songwriter, has given her the opportunity to make periodic visits to many diverse locations throughout the U.S. Her observations, over the span of her career about what has formed the most successful of these places, are both thoughtful and intriguing A fascinating book that engaged me right from the start. Dar Williams shares her observations about the relationships between people in a community, and their town's geography , history, and physical structure. Dar's career as a musician and singer-songwriter, has given her the opportunity to make periodic visits to many diverse locations throughout the U.S. Her observations, over the span of her career about what has formed the most successful of these places, are both thoughtful and intriguing. She establishes a vocabulary for finding commonality and contrast in how these towns evolved and why people really like living in them. At the center of the book is her cogent analysis of the mutually beneficial relationships between individuals, community, and geography, and the diverse ways that this relationship can cause a town to flourish. I've enjoyed Dar William's music and performances for a long time. This book , in a very different way, was as enjoyable as one of her shows.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert Juliano

    William's book is all about social connections and cultural bridging, with lots of stories about successful local farm and restaurant connections, reinvigorating long neglected downtowns and such. At first it had a positive effect on me, I signed up to help start up an acoustic music circle at a local church (different from the congregation I attend) and in general made an effort to pull myself out of my daily routines long enough to reach out and create some networking of my own. Then the COVI William's book is all about social connections and cultural bridging, with lots of stories about successful local farm and restaurant connections, reinvigorating long neglected downtowns and such. At first it had a positive effect on me, I signed up to help start up an acoustic music circle at a local church (different from the congregation I attend) and in general made an effort to pull myself out of my daily routines long enough to reach out and create some networking of my own. Then the COVID-19 thing hit, and I read the last half of the book while endlessly holed up in my house, wondering if we would ever again be as free and easy around others at eateries and music shows as we had in the past. It might be a long time before I get a chance to sit in a close circle playing guitars and banjos. I don't know that any of the ideas presented in Dar's book will ever work again, it already feels like an anachronism.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    Dar Williams talks about the how she has seen towns and cities who were once very down on their luck turn things around and once again become vibrant communities. Each chapter is based on a different place such as Moab, Utah, Wilmington, Delaware, Carrboro, North Carolina, and Gainesville, Florida among others.  She talks about different things they have done to revitalize downtown areas. When I first started reading it I was thinking about how her ideas were all well and good, but that they may Dar Williams talks about the how she has seen towns and cities who were once very down on their luck turn things around and once again become vibrant communities. Each chapter is based on a different place such as Moab, Utah, Wilmington, Delaware, Carrboro, North Carolina, and Gainesville, Florida among others.  She talks about different things they have done to revitalize downtown areas. When I first started reading it I was thinking about how her ideas were all well and good, but that they may be benefitting only small portions of those communities, but almost as soon as I thought that she started talking about gentrification, race, and inequality and how addressing these issues is also an important part of this redevelopment.  This book wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be when I picked it up. It's more about urban planning than people, but it still has some interesting ideas in it and gives a nice little snapshot of places around the country.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael A. Van Kerckhove

    Catching up on GoodReads... I've been a Dar Williams fan since 1996. I had the chance to go to her reading/signing/mini concert at Parnassus Books in Nashville earlier this year. She played "After All" and I didn't realize how much I needed to hear her sing it live again until that moment. (Bonus for playing "The Hudson" by request!) I've met her at several concerts over the years, and it's always nice to chat for a minute or two. Loved the book and her perspective on city planning and city life Catching up on GoodReads... I've been a Dar Williams fan since 1996. I had the chance to go to her reading/signing/mini concert at Parnassus Books in Nashville earlier this year. She played "After All" and I didn't realize how much I needed to hear her sing it live again until that moment. (Bonus for playing "The Hudson" by request!) I've met her at several concerts over the years, and it's always nice to chat for a minute or two. Loved the book and her perspective on city planning and city life and people and community. Loved the shout out to Detroit's River Walk in her chapter on water and waterfronts. Some fans may want to read more about her music career, but she does connect to it when appropriate in relation to the topics at hand. I appreciated those little connections. Thank you again, Dar! Cheers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bharathi

    I read the book after listening to Dar Williams' interview in NPR. The book is a very nice. It attempts to explain what would help cities become desirable places to live. Most of what she explains are do-able, if you have the will to do it. She explains many factors that makes each city, be it Wilmington, Delaware or Carrboro, North Carolina or Phoenixville, Pennsylvania a desirable place to live and some of the pitfalls. She also gives examples of what each city can do better, and some that may I read the book after listening to Dar Williams' interview in NPR. The book is a very nice. It attempts to explain what would help cities become desirable places to live. Most of what she explains are do-able, if you have the will to do it. She explains many factors that makes each city, be it Wilmington, Delaware or Carrboro, North Carolina or Phoenixville, Pennsylvania a desirable place to live and some of the pitfalls. She also gives examples of what each city can do better, and some that may change the trajectory. There are several ideas, and she clearly thought about each one a lot. My only problem with the book was that it was long-winded and a bit boring sometimes. There were too many concepts, maybe requiring more effort on my part. The best essays were that of Wilmington DE with its side offering of Detroit MI and Gainesville FL.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alex Meeks

    This is a really wonderful book about community: community-building and community maintenance. A place is just a place. What makes a community strong and notable is the people. I might be a little biased because Dar is one of my favorite musicians and a chapter of her book is about the place I've found a home for myself (Finger Lakes), but i highly recommend this book to anyone trying to understand how strong communities are built and what makes communities strong and meaningful places to live.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marty Greenwell

    What a cool book. This is a really easy way to get into how some smaller cities make it and others have a hard time. Dar Williams, a singer-songwriter spins her stories and advice through the lens of meeting people in towns ranging from Wilmington Delaware to Gainesville Florida. Interesting discussion regarding use of rivers, old buildings, cafes and even senior citizen centers. Slow read because it is non-fiction. Daughter Avocet is majoring in Urban Studies at Pitt and recognized the people w What a cool book. This is a really easy way to get into how some smaller cities make it and others have a hard time. Dar Williams, a singer-songwriter spins her stories and advice through the lens of meeting people in towns ranging from Wilmington Delaware to Gainesville Florida. Interesting discussion regarding use of rivers, old buildings, cafes and even senior citizen centers. Slow read because it is non-fiction. Daughter Avocet is majoring in Urban Studies at Pitt and recognized the people who say the book is good on the back cover

  28. 5 out of 5

    Monical

    Disappointing short non-fiction book on communities from this singer-songwriter. From the title, I thought I would hear more about her experiences in traveling to perform, and insights from those experiences. There was a small amount of that sort of observation in the book, but most of it was focused on a few "blue-ish" cities that had found ways to reinvent themselves. Not sure if the plans proposed in the book would work generally.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Danni Green

    I love Dar Williams, but I was disappointed with this book. Her beautiful writing style certainly carries over from her songwriting to book writing, but this is not a memoir by any stretch and the content is really lacking here. This book would be significantly improved by a robust race, class, and disability analysis of the town she explores, but without those things the book feels so disconnected from reality that it's impossible to take it seriously.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brienne Diebolt-Brown

    Amazing book. She's got a light conversational touch and gives some pretty storng examples of what different communities or individuals (conscious bridgers) are doing to make their communities thrive, from music to coop grocery stores to arts and green spaces. Totally worth reading and taking notes.

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