Entertainment TEDx

5 things you think about Fargo, North Dakota — that you shouldn’t

Fargo: the fiction. Billy Bob Thornton stars in the FX television show Fargo. This show is based on the Coen Brothers movie, and gives the absolute wrong impression of my city. Photo: FX

Fargo: the fiction. Billy Bob Thornton stars in the FX television show Fargo, which is based on the Coen Brothers movie. Both give the absolute wrong impression of my city. Photo: FX/Matthias Clamer

By Greg Tehven

Fargo, North Dakota, has a skewed reputation. This city, which happens to be my hometown, rocketed to infamy thanks to the 1996 dark comedy by the Coen Brothers about a down-on-his-luck car salesman (William H. Macy) who plans to have his wife kidnapped, and the sheriff (Frances McDormand) who investigates what happens when the plan goes terribly awry. Fargo is a great film—I mean, it won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay—but it also planted some very off ideas about the city I call home. And just as the jokes were finally dissipating, FX rolled out a new, addictive TV show also called Fargo that dredged up the stereotypes anew.

I grew up on a family farm outside Fargo. In fact, my great-great-grandfather was one of the pioneers who first settled this area. And as the organizer of TEDxFargo, it feels like my duty to set the record straight. Below, some common misconceptions about Fargo, corrected.

  1. You might think … people in Fargo talk funny.
    Yup, we might say “geez” on occasion. But most of us don’t talk funny, and we definitely don’t all sound the same. In fact, we have a surprisingly large international community. Our city is filled with innovators, artists, researchers, entrepreneurs and other professionals, many of whom have moved here from all over the world and have discovered that Fargo is a welcoming community to new Americans.
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  2. You might think … Fargo is small and in the middle of nowhere.
    Fun fact: Of the six towns named Fargo in the United States, the one in North Dakota has the largest population, with 113,658 residents. And we prefer to say we are located in the middle of a rich frontier, surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and farms. Which means that Fargo offers what might be the greatest sunset in the world. Almost every night.
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  3. You might think … Fargo is cold all the time.
    I can’t lie—we get a lot of snow in Fargo, about 52 inches per winter. But it makes the other seasons all the sweeter, no? Fall is a gaggle of colors, spring is full of flowers, and the summer is glorious, mild and action-packed. The TEDxFargo community is hugely active in the warm months, with outdoor lunches and after-event celebrations in gardens and on rooftops. Our early summer mornings allow us to feature TEDx Adventures—this year, we’ll hold a coffee roasting exhibition, do yoga on a rooftop, and play childhood games in one of Fargo’s many parks.

    Fargo: the reality. TEDxFargo truly represents this city—full of big ideas and fascinating people. Photo: TEDxFargo

    Fargo: the reality. TEDxFargo truly represents this city—full of big ideas and fascinating people. Photo: TEDxFargo

  4. You might think … Fargo is for old-timers.
    The characters in Fargo aren’t exactly young and spry—they’re middle-aged and dealing with a lack of opportunities. But I’d like to point out that Fargo is now one of the youngest cities in the United States. In fact, the average age here is 30.2 years old. We are home to several universities, and Concordia Language Villages is one of the top places for people in the world to learn a new language. As far as new opportunities, we have a full calendar of startup events, an organization dedicated to promoting startups, a recently launched no-cost co-living incubator, and one of the best 1 Million Cups organizations in the country. So many people in Fargo are running their own companies or setting up their own creative studios. People are choosing Fargo as a place to launch their careers. Fun fact: nine new people move to Fargo every day.
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  5. You might think … Fargo is a nowhere place where no one would want to live.
    When I was younger, I believed the negative mythology about this place, so I went off to a big college, co-founded a nonprofit (Students Today Leaders Forever), and then traveled widely to see the great cities of the world. I spent time in Hanoi and Bangkok, and walked across Spain. And after that, I wanted to come back to Fargo. I’ve committed my life’s work to making this the greatest city in the world. I’ve turned down opportunities elsewhere to raise the profile of a creative community filled with some of the kindest people in the world.

TEDxFargo: On Purpose is just around the corner—it will take place on Thursday, July 24, at the historic Fargo Theatre. Our first event started in 2012 with four speakers and 100 people in the audience; this event will feature 22 speakers with an audience of more than 800, and TEDxYouth@Fargo the next day. This kind of growth couldn’t happen without a dedicated team of volunteers. This year, in addition to the speaker program, we’ll experiment with the aroma in the lobby and have puppies to hang out with during the breaks. Overall, we push ourselves to create a memorable experience where attendees are able to see things with new eyes and hear things with new ears. So we especially appreciate your thinking differently about our city.