Friday, February 13, 2009

Remember When Uptown Was "Bad"?

Remember back when people were scared to visit Uptown? When it was seedy and scary and "bad?" When people with kids moved away to "safer" neighborhoods? No? Well, I don't either, and I've been around more than a couple of decades.

This is a common enough refrain, though. I suppose each person has his or her own definition of what makes a neighborhood "bad." Still, despite occasional pockets of crime or problem houses, the main Uptown neighborhoods - CARAG, the Wedge, East Isles, and ECCO - have never been considered scary places to live or visit. Well, maybe they were by some people, but those people probably think everyone in city limits packs heat anyway.

So who is saying this and why do they continue to do so? A 2006 Uptown Neighborhood News profile of ECCO board member Tim Prinsen, a "born and bred" Minnesotan who moved to Uptown in 2001, remembers the '90s as a time when "people used to be nervous about coming into Uptown." While that is undoubtedly true, I think it's also fair to say that many of those people were basing their fear not on facts, but on misperceptions. And, unfortunately, perceptions take on the mantle of reality, especially when it comes to city neighborhoods. I doubt that many people actually living in Uptown at the time considered it to be scary or dangerous.

Although I don't fault Prinsen for that statement (yes, some people were nervous about Uptown although unjustifably so), I don't agree with him on his next point: "Tim remembers a time when young couples would move to the area, but once they had children they would move out. Tim and his wife are an example of how that is no longer the case."

I was born in Uptown. I grew up in Uptown, as did many other kids on my block, in my neighborhood, and at my school. If anything, Prinsen has it backwards. Young couples used to come to Uptown because they could afford to raise a family here. In more recent years young couples with children are moving away, not because they don't want to raise their kids here, but because they can't afford to buy a home in the neighborhood. I think it's wonderful that he and his family are able to live here, and hope that more families will have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps. An integrated community filled with people from all stages of life will make this a better place for all of us.

It would be one thing if this was just one isolated example of a reference to Uptown's scary past, but the revisionist history of Uptown's bad years is still around. Take Lara Norkus-Crampton's recent comments to the Southwest Journal, for example. I've discussed it in prior posts, but it bears repeating. "This area wasn't always seen as such a perfect place," attests Norkus-Crampton, There were parts of Uptown considered borderline." Norkus-Crampton is an ECCO resident and, unfortunately, a Minneapolis Planning Commissioner (as well as a newly-announced Ward 10 City Council candidate). I don't know what her definition of "borderline" is, but her comments only reinforce my impression that she is either unaware of Uptown's true history, or, possibly, finds the very attributes that made Uptown so popular to so many people - the "weird" and the artsy, the economically, age, and racially diverse, people who work blue collar jobs - to be uncomfortable.

In Lara Norkus-Crampton and other's defense, I suppose, I should note that Uptown in the 1960s and 1970s had its issues. It was, in fact, a very controversial designation of Hennepin and Lake as "blighted" that paved the way for the creation of Calhoun Square. Maybe Norkus-Crampton is talking about this era, although to many people Uptown wasn't "borderline" even then, it was just dumpier and and not as yuppified. What I just can't understand, as much as I think about it, is how anyone can make an argument that Uptown of the late '80s into the '90s was somehow a dangerous or even borderline neighborhood.

I'm tired of revisionist history. Uptown has had its ups and downs, but there's no point in highlighting a "bad" or "borderline" past that just doesn't exist. Why, then, do people insist on perpetuating this myth? Perhaps they like to envision themselves as urban cowboys, living in a tough neighborhood, turning it around through the toils of their labor. Or perhaps they just think living in a neighborhood without a North Face was really slumming it.

No comments:

Post a Comment