The best towns and small cities in the US: Des Moines, Iowa

Iowa’s state capital is shaking off its staid reputation through re-energised arts venues and a ‘growing’ food scene

More in the series: Eugene | Chapel Hill | Ithaca | Portland | Ventura | Missoula

Bill Bryson didn’t help his hometown’s reputation with the opening to his breakthrough book, The Lost Continent. “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” One million copies later, the world may still believe that Iowa’s capital – in the middle of the most Midwestern of states – is the place where you “settle down with a local girl called Bobbi and get a job in the Firestone factory and live there for ever and ever.”

Des Moines’ dominant businesses (banking and insurance) once kept it a conservative, staid place. Today those same industries are fostering a social revolution. After years of losing their best and brightest inhabitants to, frankly, anywhere else, city leaders began investing in local arts and culture to stem the brain drain, including remodelling the riverfront and building an amphitheatre to host a summer-long programme of outdoor gigs and concerts.

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