A spread in this month’s Outside magazine reveals what makes a utopia and why we want to live in one. Host Jeff Young talks with Senior Editor Dianna Delling about their top picks in the US, towns that are smart and progressive, beautiful, livable, and fun. And if you can’t move, advice on how to turn your town into the promised land.
YOUNG: Now, I’m sure you’ve got a soft spot for the town you call home, but would you call it an urban utopia? Is it hip? Is it smart? Is it packed with adventure? The latest issue of Outside Magazine says such places really do exist. It lists towns, buildings, smart communities, reviving city centers and making outdoors play part of every day life. Outside’s senior editor Dianna Delling helped compile that list. Diana, thanks for talking with me.
DELLING: Thanks for having me.
YOUNG: So you call these towns, “hip, smart, packed with adventure.” I’m wondering, how does one measure hipness? Because I’ve always wanted to know.
DELLING: For us hip meant places where things were happening. Places where there was a buzz about what’s going on, what the citizens are doing, what the governments are doing, everyone’s working together in these towns to make them better places to live and that’s what really attracted us.
YOUNG: Who made the list here? Give us a few towns on the list.
DELLING: Ok, well we’ve got Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon, of course a long-standing Utopian, forward-thinking town. We’ve got Fort Collins, Colorado; Charleston, South Carolina; Davis, California; Salt Lake City, Utah.
YOUNG: What did you learn about what made those towns the way they are? Is it a particular mayor who’s pushing things in a direction or is it a general ethic among the community there?
DELLING: It was both really. In some cases mayors were really leading the way. In Chicago Mayor Daly, in Salt Lake City Mayor Anderson, but it wasn’t, it can start with the mayor, the mayor can push agendas, the mayor can bring up ideas. But I think for cities to really take off and become more livable, it takes involvement by citizens, businesses, government officials, really everybody involved and that’s what we saw in these cities.
YOUNG: Let’s talk about an example, being able to bike to work or bicycle for recreation seem to be a pretty important thing in your measurements here. I’m someone who’s been as a bicyclist on the business end of a car bumper a few times and maybe it’s just the repeated head injuries talking here, but I’m wondering, is there a way to make cars and bikes get along? How have they done it, these towns?
DELLING: A number of ways, not necessarily a safety issue, but a bike safety issue was addressed by the city of Chicago with their Millenium Park bicycle station. The city has an indoor facility so that commuters can store their bikes during the day. They can even take a shower and get bike repairs while they’re at work with this facility and that’s really innovative and really encouraging to get people out of cars and biking to work. A town like Davis, California is very dedicated to having a network of paths that take you almost anywhere in the city. Even new developments in the city of Davis are required to connect this network of bicycle trails.
YOUNG: You know I think there might be a connection here. In Davis, California, you have a local joking that rush-hour is just before seven o’clock in the evening because that’s when everybody’s heading out for these committee meetings of these various do-good organizations, community improvement organizations that they’re involved with. No coincidence I’m guessing, right?
DELLING: No it all seems to be connected. When you get people interested and involved in improving their communities, things start to happen.
YOUNG: You know, the transportation bill, this big highway bill that just passed Congress, I understand 25 million dollars is going to Columbia, Missouri for new bike and pedestrian trails. Do you see a hopeful trend here? Do you see that, goodness, is the federal government getting hip, is that what we’re seeing here?
DELLING: I hope so, I hope it’s a good sign. I know that in the state of New Mexico we’re also in the process of putting in a light rail system that will connect the city of Santa Fe, the city of Albuquerque, and some of the southern communities. I think it’s a great trend and I definitely hope we see more of it.
YOUNG: One of the measures that you include here is how much a house would cost you if you went to move there and of course, that’s also sort of an indirect measure of the economic vitality of an area, and most of these it seems to me are fairly well-to-do. Is that what we’re really talking about here is just well-off places that have a lot of disposable income for recreation?
DELLING: Not deliberately. I agree that many of the median home prices are a little bit on the high side as home prices are throughout the country. I don’t think that a well-to-do community necessarily means that the place will be more livable or more interested in improving its quality of life.
YOUNG: Dianna Delling is senior editor of Outside magazine, and its August issue lists the Utopia towns of the U.S., livable places in the U.S. Dianna, thanks for talking with me.
DELLING: Oh, thank you.
[MUSIC: Turtle Island String Quartet “Crossroads” from ‘TISQ: A Windham Hill Retrospective’ (Windham Hill- 1997)]
YOUNG: Coming up, grazing on public land. New rules to keep those dogies rolling, and more. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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