Friday, January 9, 2009

Nothing Stands Still

While reading posts about Uptown elsewhere on the web I'm struck with how many people seem to talk about "the good old days," days in which Uptown was cheaper/funkier/busier/quieter/safer/whatever. Depending on the writer's age, those days range from several years to several decades ago. Sure, a lot does - and has - changed, but what is it about Uptown that inspires such romanticization of the past? And why is that past seldom based in reality?
My guess is that the many different views of Uptown - what it is, was, and could or should be - stems partially from the many different people who have connections to or stakes in the neighborhood. Younger people seem to think that bars and nightlife define the neighborhood while middle-aged homeowners think the character is more about building heights and density. Teenage shoppers from Edina have different needs and impressions than the 80-year-old resident who is more concerned with shoveled sidewalks and a regular bus schedule. Families with small children want clean and safe playgrounds. The would-be renter or homeowner wants a decent apartment or house in his or her price bracket. Everyone has a different wish list, and everyone seems happy to bend the past to fit their personal vision.

I have a personal list, too. I don't care about bars or nightlife, other than I think they do add an important vitality to a neighborhood. A good urban neighborhood should offer a little of everything, except, ideally, crime. Uptown needs restaurants, markets, dry cleaners, laundromats, bakers, booksellers, bars, gift shops, doctors, dentists, schools, parks, the library, places of worship, nonprofits, offices, galleries, clothing stores, stores for rich people, stores for poor people, old people centers, affordable daycares, and all of the other trappings of daily life. I only care about the needs of the visitors from the 'burbs because they help provide the customer base needed to support what should be a vibrant and livable neighborhood. A good neighborhood also needs nice parks, great public transportation, and safe, walkable streets. I don't care one bit about parking, other than because without it the reality is that too many people will just do their shopping at the mall. I certainly don't think parking is a right - if you want a guaranteed spot by your house you can buy or rent a place that comes with a garage or parking lot. And, as far as height and density go, if well-designed tall buildings in appropriate locations mean more residents, workers, and shoppers, then by all means go for it.

The one historical reality of Uptown: the neighborhood has always shifted and changed over the years. Old people, young people, families, yuppies, artists - all have called Uptown home over the years. Businesses - even long-established, seemingly permanent institutions - have come and gone. What also hasn't changed (within most people's lifetimes, anyway) is that Uptown is a CITY neighborhood. If you want a quiet neighborhood with plentiful parking then there are plenty of other nice neighborhoods around, many of them within city limits. In other words: don't move three blocks from Lake and Hennepin and then complain about the traffic. It comes with the territory. That doesn't mean we have to sit back and accept negative changes such as serious or nuisance crimes. It does mean that we should pick our battles right.

And for those people who insist on living in a mythical past? What's gone is gone - let's move on with it and work on creating a neighborhood that will work for all of us.

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