Stuff I love: Geography art

Melody WarnickStuff I love

Right before we moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, my husband gave me a little piece of Virginia to put on my wall:

Typographic Virginia

Typography is big in our house, so I was a sucker for this CAPow print (a scant $18 at Society 6), with its hand-drawn lettering spelling out the names of Virginia’s 95 counties. Now framed and hanging in the living room of our house, smack-dab between our two front windows, it’s kind of crying out for some friends, right? If I start building a collection of Virginia prints, this one, from Etsy seller Painted Post, could very well be next.


Landmark State Print


Seen any state-related artwork I can’t/shouldn’t live without?

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10,000 hours

Melody WarnickPlace love

CC photo via Flickr by Marianne Bevis

CC photo via Flickr by Marianne Bevis

Tell people you’re moving to Austin, Texas, and they get misty-eyed. They squee. They clap you on the shoulders and tell you how lucky you are, how great Austin is, how much you’ll adore it just the way they adored it when they went to school there/vacationed there/caught a SXSW show there. You eventually come to agree with their assessment: Moving to Austin makes us the luckiest family on earth.

Or at least that’s what happened to us when my husband took a job in Austin in 2010. Never had a place been so well-hyped. And yet even after we’d been there for a few months and had personally sampled some of the wonders (Torchy’s fried avocado tacos, Alamo Drafthouse movies) that people described to us in electrifying detail, Austin wasn’t clicking for us. We felt weird about it, knowing the feverish devotion the city inspired. I remember having dinner with my fried Amber, hearing her rave about Austin and how she never wanted to leave, and thinking, “Huh.”

The adorable Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy describes staying with some friends who bought a second home in Chicago because they wanted to spend more time there. “Chicago is a great city,” she says, “but there are other great cities. Why Chicago?” Here’s her aha moment:

I’m starting to suspect that to really love a place, you’ve got to meet it halfway: you have to choose to make it yours.

Let’s say you like a place. Because you like it, you choose to spend a little more time there. And the more time you put in, the more you like it. It’s a virtuous cycle. It’s how you fall in love.

Call this the 10,000 hours theory: When you want to become a fabulous tennis player or pen twirler or Twitter comedian, you spend a lot of time practicing and perfecting and just being with that activity until you’re great at it. But you probably don’t start down that road unless you have a baseline of affection for the thing you want to be good at.

Falling in love with your town is like that. You chose that town because you like it, at least a little bit. It may not be full-blown love, but you see some possibilities. You and your town could be really good together. That’s enough to make you start putting in the time, showing up, and suffering through periodic potholes, property tax increases, and storms of the century. All that time, effort, and affection make you the master of where you live. Eventually you become the veritable Serena Williams of Lancaster, or Des Moines, or Sheboygan, or wherever. But to get to that point, you have to put in the time—and you have to want to.

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The best town ever. No, seriously.

Melody WarnickGreat towns

Outside isn’t the only magazine that puts out an annual list of great places to live. But it’s the only one that creates a March Madness-style bracket of 64 American towns and goads the public into voting on them. In just about a month in spring 2014, 1.5 million votes were cast. That’s flabbergasting. This isn’t picking your favorite American Idol diva. You don’t win anything. All Outside’s town vs. town throwdown gets you is the possibility of pure, unadulterated civic pride and perhaps bragging rights among urban planners and civil servants.

A tourney I can get into.

A tourney I can get into.

But clearly that was enough.

The Elite Eight boasted some heavy hitters: Provo, Utah; Anchorage; Burlington, Vermont; Ithaca, New York; Asheville, North Carolina; Duluth, Minnesota; Minneapolis; and Louisville. In the final week, Provo, a college town of 115,000 and home to my alma mater, BYU, had defeated all comers except Duluth, whose 86,000 residents rallied around the #VoteDuluth hashtag and an accompanying website. The governor of Minnesota tweeted about it, as did both Minnesota senators, including Al Franken, whose Stuart Smalley affirmations could be Duluth’s I-think-I-can motto: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Stuart Smalley

And they did it. They won.

Who cares, right? It’s just an online popularity contest, a clever marketing ploy for Outside magazine, right? Well, yes. But the civic optimism is real, and it’s a big deal for Duluth.

Forty-year-old mayor Don Ness posted a victory speech on his Facebook wall, saying, “For decades, a fog of pessimism and defeatism hung low over the city – negative and cynical voices defined our city’s conventional wisdom. Too often we simply accepted the fact that Duluth would never fulfill its potential. Today, Duluth is a different place – the optimistic and positive voices are now being heard…. Those that love Duluth understand that the best way to improve our city is through confident action, investment, and problem solving. That’s the most fundamental change in our city’s recent history.

“Is this change real? Ask yourself this question: Do you think Duluth could have won this contest 20 years ago?

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. CC image by chefranden via Flickr.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. CC image by chefranden via Flickr.

Hat tip, Duluth. You deserve it.

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