Monday, August 11, 2008

Outside Magazine's Best Towns 2008

Well, I'll give it to them for changing things up.

Every August Outside puts out its "Best Towns" issue. Last year, the editors focused on the top 10 small towns in America for outdoor enthusiasts, and they got many an "oooh" and "aaah" out of me. Most of the finalists, including my leading crush, Santa Fe, were beyond winsome. They were legitimately drool-worthy. Readers admitted their own crushes on Santa Cruz, Portland and Burlington.

This year, all bets are off. The criteria of a population under 100,000 is gone, and the new formula for inclusion is "civic reinvention" with a side of adventure. According to the editors, the 2008 selections embody fresh ideas, dramatic transformations and an active population. They range from towns as small as 1,600 people to cities as big as 701,500 people.

Here are the finalists:

Washington, District of Columbia
Chattanooga, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Ogden, Utah
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Tacoma, Washington
Ithaca, New York
Louisville, Kentucky
Eureka, California
Crested Butte, Colorado
Columbia, Missouri

I'm still figuring out what to make of these eclectic selections, but I can tell you that seeing D.C. (population 581,500) first on the list surprised me. (My apologies to everyone I know who lives there.) Having grown up in Virginia, about an hour and a half south, perhaps my old biases get the best of me. But in particular, I was interested to read about the city's new bike-share program, the first in the country. The word that comes to mind is progressive. There. I said it.

So guess what? I'm going to give D.C. a second chance. I will be there the first weekend of September with a group of friends, and I've decided that it's now officially a date. I will pack my heels, peel my eyes and soak in all the changes, from new organic restaurants and bakeries to blossoming late-night spots. You'll get the full report.

Finally, speaking of the mid-Atlantic, I was pleased to see Charlottesville, Virginia (population 40,300), where I went to college, recognized in Outside's "Best of the Rest" list for its growing environmentalism. Green roofs on City Hall? Urban forest management? I couldn't be prouder of my ex.

Proud enough to get back together? It's crossed my mind. I know several fellow UVA alums who have moved back...and several who wish they could. We went to school in a bona fide dream town. If we didn't know it then, we certainly do now.


Jessica said...

One of the "Best of the Rest" is close to my former hometown -- Oakland. While it does have the best weather in the country, I don't want to live there. Violence is rampant and City Hall is just a bit corrupt

Alison said...

Ahhh... DC. I love my hometown and all of its wonderful qualities (tons of parks, quality bike/running trails, neighborhood restaurants, excellent independent bookstores, etc.) but I always feel I must caution people that DC will never be New York. This is a government town, folks. And just like the nerdy-but-cute student body president you secretly crushed on in high school, DC is - and always will be - pure dork to the core. You can open up all the swank lounges and cute cupcake shops in the world (and aren't cupcakes so three years ago anyway?) but the enduring institutions in DC will always be places like Old Ebbitt Grill and The Palm (and Ben's Chili Bowl, natch). If that makes your skin crawl, all the farmers markets, green spaces and bike lending programs won't make a bit of difference in your impression of DC. On the other hand, if the idea of running across Memorial Bridge and watching the President's helicopters swoop over the rowers on the river gives you a thrill, DC might be the city for you. In sum: don't dress my student government dork up in hipster clothes, please; I love him just the way he is.