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Jack Zaleski, Published June 02 2012

Zaleski: Pleasure to return to city that works

When I travel, I like to visit cities similar to Fargo. That is, cities that are regional centers for retailing, medicine, entertainment, education and the rest of the amenities that help define Fargo and the metro area. There are similarities among the cities, of course, but every time I return to Fargo I’m reminded of the differences that make this town unique – and unique in countless good ways.

I’m not so naïve as to accept as gospel the rose-colored-glasses view of Fargo in Marc de Celle’s “How Fargo of You.” (I read it on the airplane. Great fun.) After all, like any urban area of 200,000 souls, Fargo has a dark and dreary side. Fargo seems comfortable with a kind of shallow tolerance (North Dakota nice?) that hides cultural biases so deeply endemic we deny they are part of who we are. In that regard, we’re no different from residents of small cities all over the nation. Big cities, too.

That being said, Fargo impresses because it works. It’s easy to take the city for granted because the high standards that civic leaders and residents expect in their town are routine. We demand good streets, well-kept neighborhoods, efficient municipal services and accessible, responsive local government. We have all that, and more.

Sometimes little things make a big difference. For example, Fargo has to be one of the best-scrubbed cities of its size in the country. In my experience, visitors often are first impressed by litter-free streets, even in the heart of the downtown district. If the first thing a visitor (or returning resident) sees in Fargo is trash on the roadways, that first impression is a bad one.

Small stuff is important, but bigger things – like the city’s much-improved street system – also reveal smart planning. It might seem the streets are in cone-zone mode all summer, but when the cones are gone and work is completed, traffic moves better and the irritation of detours is forgotten. The stretch of 45th Street, south of Interstate 94, for example, is a wide, safe urban thoroughfare ready to accommodate more traffic as development proceeds.

So, you get off the airplane at Hector Field, and within minutes you’re in the heart of town or on one of the nearby highways that connect to destinations in all directions. Simple, quick, well-planned access and egress.

Fargo is not perfect. No human endeavor or construct ever is. But the leaders and people here have found an urban-living formula that requires high standards and embraces visionary expectations. Believe me, lots of other places don’t come close.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5521.