James Fallows names eleven signs a city will succeed. I’m wondering how they apply to Waco.
1. Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.
Um … not really? But right now, where are national politics a distant concern?
2. You can pick out the local patriots.
Definitely, and I haven’t even been here that long. The first person who comes to mind is Jimmy Dorrell, the pastor of Church Under the Bridge and the president and co-founder of Mission Waco. Also Fiona Bond, who does a lot of her dynamic work with Creative Waco.
3. “Public-private partnerships” are real. I think so. I saw some impressive things last year when my son Wesley was interning with the Waco Downtown Development Corporation, which has had a role in bringing some cool businesses to the downtown area (see below).
4. People know the civic story. Yes — but it’s not a very positive story. What people seem to know about, even locals, is the tornado of 1953, the siege of the Branch Davidians — which actually happened ten miles away — and, especially within the black community, a horrifying lynching of a young man named Jesse Washington in 1916. (I’m not linking to that Wikipedia page because of a deeply disturbing image.) We’re seeing just the beginnings of a new and more positive civic story, thanks above all to one couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines.
5. They have a downtown. This is happening! The Gaineses’ Magnolia Market (just noted), Dichotomy Coffee and Spirits, Lula Jane’s, the recently re-opened Waco Hippodrome — these are all really good signs. We’ll see if they have staying power, but I really think they will.
6. They are near a research university. Yep.
7. They have, and care about, a community college. Yep — a good one, too.
8. They have unusual schools. I’m not so sure about this. Waco’s relative poverty seems to hurt its schools and roads more than anything else. For a certain clientele, Live Oak Classical School is a fine option, but I am desperately hoping that the revitalization of the downtown area brings in more people and a stronger tax base that can revitalize the schools. But there’s a chicken-egg problem here: the kind of people who can raise the tax base won’t want to move here without better schools. (UPDATE: I just learned about Rapoport Academy, a charter school on Waco’s East Side that Nancy Grayson, the owner of Lula Jane’s (see above) founded in 1998. Turns out that my friend and colleague Jonathan Tran is on the Board of Directors there! So much that I still don’t know….)
9. They make themselves open. Honestly, I don’t know.
10. They have big plans. Getting there!
11. They have craft breweries. Not much on that front at the moment, but that has something to do with all the great breweries in Austin and Dallas. However, how about what might well be the top craft distillery in America? And another one on the way? (UPDATE: Check out the Bare Arms Brewpub.)
Overall, I think, the signs are pretty good — and if you remember what Waco was like ten years ago (I do, because that’s when I was first offered a job by Baylor), the overall improvement of the place is stunning. So I think we have a bright future here — but if y’all want to join us, you’d better do it before the property values start a steep climb….