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Denton’s No. 1: The 10 Best Small Towns In America

November 14, 2012

By Joshua Berlinger

Wall Street Journal – Business Insider

Some people say America’s “small towns” are a dead concept, that mom-and-pop stores are a thing of the past, and that quintessential neighborhood relationships aren’t built for the 21st century.

Map publisher Rand McNally and USA TODAY are rebutting that notion. They partnered up to compile a list of the best small towns in America, asking people to vote on factors including friendliness, food, and beauty.

So if you’re in a mood for a trip, and New York, LA, and Chicago aren’t quite your style …

Read more:

And then we skip to the best part …

1. Denton, Texas

Population: 113,383

Closest major highway: Interstate 35

And the winner is Denton, Texas! Denton placed first overall in a dominant fashion: it also was voted the friendliest town, the most fun town, the fourth-best town for food, and the ninth-most patriotic town in the country.

Denton has a trendy yet diverse arts and live music scene, a handful of colleges — University of North Texas, Texas Women’s University, and North Central Texas College — and some impressive local horse farms where visitors can tour and ride.

Source: Rand McNally and USA Today, 2012 Best Small Towns in America and U.S. 2010 Census

My take on this ranking is: (Yes, the Op-Ed starts now.)

Bubba y los Super Vatos

Comments posted on the Business Insider site covered reactions from disbelief to dismay that other – better and smaller – towns were not considered. This was a vote-in competition. Using the term “small” when describing Denton is valid as one compares it to the major metropolitan complex of Dallas/Fort Worth (or Houston or San Antonio). Residents and “fans” of a “small” town, using social media forums, logged-in their support. The city (including Chamber of Commerce councils and boards) and its residents backed the campaign to put Denton “over the top.”

I can attest that even with cool Big Country towns such as Buffalo Gap (pop. 435) and Eastland (pop. 3,970), a voting base would be difficult to mount, and further, the towns may not have the social media support or motivation to launch a successful campaign.
I moved to Denton four years ago from another 100,000+ “small town” in West Texas – Abilene and Denton have many similarities and very telling contrasts.
  • Abilene, with three church-related universities (Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University and McMurry

    Downtown Abilene

    University), a major Texas Tech University presence – School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, Small Business Development Center, and a College of Engineering distance learning campus, and two community colleges, has a very high rate of academic achievement. Abilene is a major medical, governmental, commercial and social hub, serving more than 19 West Texas counties.

    The Center for Contemporary Arts in Abilene

    Abilene also boasts a thriving visual and performing arts community, with diverse attractions such as Abilene Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Abilene Community Theatre, Center for Contemporary Arts, National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, The Grace Museum (heart of the Historic Downtown District,) the Abilene Zoological Gardens and Frontier Texas. Abilene does not have, however, a night life of any consequence (and I believe most residents who have a say in the matter desire to keep it that way.) Residents of this Key City to the West cannot muster more than a handful of supporters for any particular cause or program beyond the United Way annual campaign or the West Texas Rehabilitation Telethon. Live music, late night events (those that run past 9 or 10 p.m. on a non-school night) and anything not conforming to standard bill-of-fare (Country, Tejano and Classical) will not draw attention or make money.

  • Vince Earley, Lance Hoffmeyer and Lori Swann playing open mic at Banter Bistro Denton.

    Denton, only 180 miles to the East North East of Abilene, is home to the University of North Texas ( enrollment 40,000,) Texas Woman’s University (more than 10,000 students,) North Central Texas College – a great public school system and library system … the list goes on. But due to the proximity to the D-FW Metroplex and a flourishing music hub (thanks in large part to UNT’s outstanding Classical and Jazz programs,

    Brave Combo – the Nuclear Polka band synonymous with Denton live music.

    musicians play in every kind of venue, bringing stellar performances for either low ticket prices or free. Events sponsored by city departments, the County of Denton and various groups have created a singular atmosphere of community. Denton offers four music festivals annually (yes, Denton Arts & Jazz Fest is first among them.) Generating from the Historic Denton County Courthouse Square are local businesses promoting art, music and good eats. Many locals and visitors discover a quaint, hometown ambiance with an uptown vibe and casual sophistication and often will enjoy more than one event on a given day. From Jazz to opera, ballet to musical theater, horse shows to garden expos – activities and performances  are scheduled daily, weekly, monthly and annually. (We just saw Downtown Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival, and in a matter of weeks will become a Christmas

    Cirque du Horror – 2011


I appreciate the differences between my two “small” hometowns and the qualities that make them unique, wonderful places. But I’m really glad to live in Denton …

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