American Futures: Travels with Jim and Kai

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    American Futures: A special project from The Atlantic and Marketplace.

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    James Fallows joins great authors through the ages in his cross-country travel blog.

    - Illustration courtesy ESRI

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    James Fallows will travel the U.S. by small plane, joined along the way by Kai Ryssdal and Marketplace producers, mapping his journalism with sophisticated GIS technology, or geographic information systems, from Esri.

    - Illustration courtesy ESRI

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    A joint special project from The Atlantic and Marketplace looking at how the global economy is reshaping small town America.

    - Illustration courtesy ESRI

The financial crisis, and its aftermath, have forced Americans to rethink their views of the global economy. But for residents of small towns and cities in this country, dramatic economic, technological, cultural, and social changes have been under way long before Lehman Brothers.

Those changes include the ways immigration is transforming communities across the American interior; how shifts in world markets for food and energy have changed opportunities in America’s farmland; how both new and established businesses have found ways to serve global customers from small towns; and how certain cities have made themselves centers of innovation and livability.

There's an American tradition of exploring the soul of this country by traveling the heartland and talking to people. From Alexis de Toqueville to Jack Kerouac, from Lewis and Clark to John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. The Atlantic's national correspondent, James Fallows, and his wife, author Deborah Fallows, intend to undertake a similar expedition traveling from one small-town airport to the next in their propeller-driven Cirrus SR-22 airplane. At key moments Marketplace and Kai Ryssdal will be traveling along with them.

"During our years of living outside the United States, Deb and I have always learned a lot by getting on a bus or train and reporting what we find as we travel across a place," Fallows says. "There is a long and honored American tradition of similar voyages of discovery.

"Every time we’ve made a 'road trip by air,' we’ve been fascinated to spend time in places that are far from interstates or big cities but have their own small airports as connections to the world. With the help of Esri’s innovative software for planning and recording our trip, and with Marketplace as the ideal partner for chronicling changes in the fabric of America’s commercial and cultural life, we’re excited to update an American reportorial tradition with new explanatory tools."

The trip kicks off in Holland, Mich., a site of traditional American manufacturing and exporting strength, and stops in the coming weeks will include South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri and Indiana, with many more across the country to be announced as the expedition unfolds.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Watch James Fallows introduce the American Futures project at the Esri Conference in San Diego, recorded on July 8, 2013.

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