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The American mythology of rugged individualism, self-reliance, and the pioneer spirit has traveled far and, like any good myth, picked up embellishments along the way. Emerson, Thoreau, and then later (in her own way) Ayn Rand all celebrated the great American virtue of going it alone. The Pilgrim, the Pioneer, the Cowboy, and the Capitalist—all heroes of this folklore—share the same narrative: go west and go alone. Yet somehow that story never seems to hold up. The Pilgrims, it turns out, shared food, pioneers—camps. And yes, even cowboys get the blues. “Our national myths,” writes Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, “often exaggerate the role of individual heroes and understate the importance of collective effort.” That is, they belie the fact that it was indeed the good will, the trust, and the reciprocity—the social capital—of communities and of neighbors that made America possible.

Today, our definition of community is changing. A majority of American adults don’t know their neighbors by name though most are on Facebook. American children play more online than play outside. And while the internet age, has brought unprecedented access to information, networks, and commerce, it's unclear if it has brought us closer or has in fact further isolated us. And its not just Americans. In emerging economies, where modernity often means individualism, the pursuit of The American Dream is alive and well on television and iPhone screens from Shanghai to São Paulo. This trend towards American-style materialism and individualism is alarming to religious leaders and environmentalists alike. “We don’t need each other for anything anymore,” notes Bill McKibben. “If we have enough money, we’re insulated from depending on those around us—which is at least as much a loss as a gain." Is it possible that in the exhaustive pursuit of individual happiness, in the creation of our own story, that we’ve forgotten our shared story, that we’ve forgotten everyone else?

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A Citizen-Led Civic Intervention in Detroit

Pictures from Detroit Civic Intervention, a 48-hour, all-hands-on-deck workshop to renew a local landmark.

Last month a group of citizens including at least one paramedic, two artists, three architects, seven small business owners, and a mechanical engineer came together to do what so many of us spend a lot of time (and conference fees) talking about: create real impact. Spearheaded by Chattanooga based nonprofit Create Here, Detroit Civic Intervention* brought together urban thinkers and doers from around the United States and from within the host city for a 48-hour, all-hands-on-deck workshop.

The group's efforts resulted in (among other things) a renewed sense of place for local landmark Roosevelt Park and 450 freshly planted tulips. "We've been to a lot of gatherings that have been show-and-tell versus show-and-do," says Create Here co-founder Josh McManus. "Detroit Civic Intervention was different. It served as a reminder that the best ideas come about when we have a lot of horsepower in one place with people actually doing something. Much is broken, but with a little help with some friends, much more is possible."

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Czech Towns Enlist Cardboard Police in Mini-Skirts to Slow Traffic

Cash-strapped Czech towns have found a solution for dealing with speedy drivers: Female police officers in mini-skirts.

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