What Makes Cities Great? Or Not?

Dec 18, 2015

A prominent Tallahasseean’s new book is due for a January release. Former City Commissioner and Mayor Dorothy Inman-Johnson’s latest work focuses on the factors that make communities either great places to live, or nightmares to escape from.

Dot Inman-Johnson was the first African-American woman elected to the Tallahassee City Commission and served two terms as mayor.
Credit floridamemory.com

Inman-Johnson said the concept for her new book, “Lessons from America’s Best and Worst Cities”, sprang from a simple question:

“Why all of the cities that are listed on the ‘100 Most Livable’ list are on the west side of the United States?” she wondered. “Surely there are a lot of cities on the eastern side of the United States that are livable!”

That annual list is published by Livability.com, which is owned by Tennessee-based Journal Communications. But there are many other listings of good and not-so-good cities that often use different criteria. These are compiled by organizations like Money Magazine, Forbes, Rand McNally, and many more. That includes the National Civic League’s All America City list, which included Tallahassee this year. Inman-Johnson said she tapped several of these to find common threads. That’s because some of the cities that are the best in America on one list, may hardly get a mention on another list. And Inman-Johnson also wanted to give some of the consensus “worst” cities, like Detroit, Chicago and Newark, a shot at redemption.

“I wanted to give them a chance to update people and not just have people depend on the list that they appeared on, like ‘the most dangerous city’ or the ‘least livable city’ or the ‘poorest city’,” she explained.

So Inman-Johnson did her own primary research in this regard and several towns, especially a few that were successfully addressing their problems, were happy to cooperate.

“Modesto (California) was one of the cities that really responded to some of the questions and surveys that I sent out and so I was real pleased to be able to report and update on the progress that’s being made in that wonderful little city.”

Speaking of wonderful little towns, Inman-Johnson moved to Tallahassee back in 1971. Of course, the Capital City was a much smaller community in those days. Inman-Johnson said that small size and laid-back pace disappointed her at first because she was used to larger, more dynamic metropolises. But now Tallahassee is home and Inman-Johnson sees it as a very good town teetering on the edge of greatness. Her research, she said, convinced her that Tallahassee is already doing many things right.

“If you are making sure that the public is engaged, the elected leadership is engaged, all of the stakeholders in your community from your business community, your universities, all of them are on the same page in how we capitalize on the wonderful assets that we have and minimize the deficits that we have.”

The more prominent deficits she says being a large income gap, high crime rate and a few economic infrastructure issues, such as the airport, which is now undergoing extensive renovation. In short, Inman-Johnson’s book does an extensive analysis of what factors great cities hold in common and even more important, what strategies not-so-great cities can employ to address their problems. She said her publisher is promising a January release.

“I plan to have a big, blow-out launch for it just before it hits Amazon and I hope it’s in all the book stores so it’ll be easily accessible.”

“Lessons from America’s Best and Worst Cities” by Dot Inman-Johnson out soon.