The New American Dream Towns

Think Utopia doesn't exist? Maybe not yet—but these ten towns are making a play for perfection with adventure-friendly innovation and cool ideas for building smart communities. Plus the hottest concepts in urban revival, combating sprawl, and better hometown living.

Aug 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Venice, California

CHOOSE THE GOOD LIFE: Tough commutes in Venice, California    Photo: Jeff Lipsky

Welcome to the Neighborhood
We've found a new way of living

IMAGINE YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO INVENT A PERFECT TOWN from scratch. You could choose whatever features you wanted to make it a stimulating and satisfying place to live, and borrow liberally from the best of what other cities have to offer. Anything goes: You might start with French Quarter streets lined with painted-lady Victorians from San Francisco. Maybe a river runs through it, with bridges and banks very much like the Seine's except for the Class III rapids in the whitewater park downtown. Solar-powered streetcars whisk commuters through lush greenbelts to art deco office towers, whose exterior walls double as climbing gyms. There's free valet parking for bicycles on every block and a free-range chicken in every pot.

Creating an exquisitely livable town, of course, isn't quite that simple. But it's not a fantasy, either. When we combed the country for the sweetest innovations and the freshest ideas for making neighborhoods better places to live, work, and play with tons of green space, easy access to the outdoors, and big-think visions for smarter, more sustainable everyday living we hit the jackpot. Plenty of real American cities, we found, are taking positive steps to soften the rough edges of our high-octane day-to-day. Communities of all sizes are waking up and relearning old lessons: That many residents want the option of walking or biking to get from A to B. That locals will swarm to a town's natural assets its shoreline or lakefront, riverbank or foothills if the paths and piers welcome them. And that change starts with a willingness to look hard at your weaknesses and then play to your strengths. Your town's paper-flat, like Davis, California? Build a network of bike lanes and paths. It rains a lot in Portland, Oregon? Transform urban rooftops into gardens of native plants.

To spotlight the new American dream towns, we started with a wish list of criteria: commitment to open space, smart solutions to sprawl and gridlock, can-do community spirit, and an active embrace of the adventurous life. We looked for green design and green-thinking mayors, thriving farmers' markets and healthy job markets. We found it all and then some: ten towns that might tempt you to box up your belongings, plus nine more whose bright ideas are well worth stealing. Check out these shining prototypes for what a 21st-century town what your hometown, perhaps can be: cleaner, greener, smarter. Better.