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.
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.”
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?“
Hat tip, Duluth. You deserve it.
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