No place stays the same forever. At home, you fix up a room or add a garden or plant some trees or replace the porch with a deck. We do the same thing to our neighborhoods, towns and cities. We're restless. Usually the people making the changes are well-meaning, but that doesn't always stop them from doing great harm.

Sometimes, though, someone figures out how to do it right, how to create a place that draws people in and makes them comfortable once they're there. Given how important this is to the things we care about--where we choose to spend our time, whether or not our communities thrive or decay--you'd think we'd have it down by now. We don't.

This piece for Mother Jones is about how a single bookstore--and its owner, Richard Howorth, who eventually became mayor--helped to revitalize the central square of Oxford, Mississippi. It's about how one small spot brimming with creativity and ingenuity can spill over in beneficial ways.

On the other hand, plenty of creativity, ingenuity, and hard work went into reshaping New Haven, Connecticut, in the urban-renewal era. It didn't work out quite so well. I grew up there, and often found myself wondering how we'd managed to create a wasteland at the edge of downtown. Thankfully, Mother Jones gave me the chance to find out.

Fred Kent is one of the more extraordinary people who pay attention to these things. This piece for Governing gives just a hint of how much fun it was to hang out with an urban-landscape curmudgeon.