11 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of, 2009 Edition

October/November 2009

Our fourth annual look at communities that have raised the bar.

By Joe Hart

What makes a place great? It’s a question we ponder every year as we put together a new “Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of” list. We toss out ideas, talk to friends, interview locals — all in search of communities that can inspire all of us, whether we ever visit them or not. A cadre of dedicated citizens with creative ideas and the energy to implement them; a progressive government willing to meet them halfway; opportunities to get close to nature; arts and cultural programs to feed the soul; a desire to meet the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy — these are all components of greatness.

But truly great communities have something beyond the confluence of these qualities. It’s intangible and hard to quantify, but it’s demonstrated in communities such as Norman, Okla., where a group of like-minded souls are organizing not only a great music festival, but also a set of interconnected community gardens. It’s in Oakland, Calif., where artists are attempting to establish a cultural district. It’s in the tiny town of Rock Port, Mo., where the city worked with local utilities to power the entire town with wind energy. These places have a spirit of positivity and optimism, plus a proactive willingness to take matters into their own hands and make a better tomorrow — whatever the odds.

A note on our intent and the selection process: There’s no national survey, no rigorous scientific method behind the places we choose to highlight. Each year’s list is intentionally designed to be somewhat capricious. Life — and the country — is full of surprises. Nor are these short profiles meant to be definitive travel guides. We’re simply giving you a window into the spirit of each place. Finally, we don’t intend for readers to pack up and move to one of these towns, though we’re no strangers to that impulse. Above all, we hope the stories of these great places inspire you to achieve more in the town you call home.

Lanesboro, Minnesota 
Bonners Ferry, Idaho 
Rock Port, Missouri 
Silver City, New Mexico 
Cornwall, Connecticut 
Sylva, North Carolina 
Oakland, California 
Walla Walla, Washington 
Carbondale, Illinois 
Mountain View, Arkansas 
Norman, Oklahoma 

Check out Great Places from previous years:

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