The “Versus” Mentality

https://chewychunks.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/image039.png?w=650&h=199Many of you know that I moderate a Facebook page for Minne Lusa Historic District. For what space it takes up in the vast landscape of social media, I believe it has been a good vehicle to spread the good word about our awesome little community. As a matter of fact, several current and future neighbors have chosen to live in Minne Lusa based, in part, on the sense of community they have seen among neighbors on our page. That’s really cool. One of my favorite things is getting a message from someone who is considering moving to the area and who wants more information about it. I would say that I get about one every other month. They don’t always pan out, but it’s a great opportunity for me to give people another perspective about this North Omaha neighborhood that they likely won’t get elsewhere. So, generally I love getting these messages.

This is a story about one I didn’t enjoy getting. Before you read any more, you should know that I initially reacted out of emotion and posted on the Facebook page portions of the message I received from this person (You can see the post and the pursuant conversations it started here). I made my response to her public in a rather scolding way. I wish I had given myself some time to respond with a little more wisdom. Hopefully, you will be able to use more wisdom than I did when you decide how you feel about it.

Minne Lusa had recently been nominated as a finalist for the Neighborhood of the Year Award given annually by Neighborhoods USA, a national organization dedicated to improving and empowering neighborhoods. We were contacted by a potential home buyer who had read the article and was interested in the neighborhood. She stated she and her husband were looking for a neighborhood to raise their children. Naturally she was interested in someplace that was safe. Got it. Totally understand the concern. I’ve answered the “Is Minne Lusa a safe place?” question about 2 dozen times. I was ready to answer it again. But the way she phrased the question made my stomach drop and my body temp rise. Her words were, “We want to make sure we raise our boys in a safe place where they can play outside. So what’s the ratio of white vs black who live in the neighborhood [sic]?”  *OK, deep breath* It still gets me riled that the question was asked this way. Want a safe place for kids? Got it. As a dad, I’m right there with you. But then, the ratio question with those two telling letters right in the middle. “VS“.

Now we’re having a completely different conversation. The question was posed in a way that suggested that “a safe place” was somehow quantifiable by a kind of Racial Ratio. To be fair, she never stated what magic number on either side of the equation was enough to call it “safe”. But the idea was clear. “I believe my safety is based on the race of people around me.” This is a hard idea for me to get behind, because I have raised my boys in a neighborhood where their positive influences have come from both white and black people. But the part of the question that stuck in my brain like a toothpick was the “vs”. Versus. White versus black. My response to her question about the ratio of white vs black was “. . . . Um . . . . Zero. There is no ratio of ‘white vs black’ here. We have white people, and we have black people. We have lots of white + black. We have some white & black. But vs? Nope there’s no ‘vs’ here. Ma’am, whatever ratio you are looking for to equate ‘good, safe place’ with doesn’t compute.” I stand behind that sentiment. I can’t abide the idea that someone would look at my black neighbors (who are exceptionally wonderful neighbors) and assume that there’s some risk. Versus! I couldn’t think for a second about being “versus” Katie and Ralph who live next door! Why would anyone be “versus” them?

Later in the post, however, I told her that if she was going to think about things that way, that she should go live somewhere else. I was essentially shaking my digital fist at her in a sentiment that sounds awfully like the ideas I was passionately decrying. “Go on! We don’t need yer kind aroun’ here!” After taking many days to think over my response, I wish that I had done things differently. I’m not really sure what I should have done. I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I was being as closed off as the mentality I was railing against.

I think that a different kind of conversation needs to be had. If I don’t want the “Versus” mentality to be a part of this community, then I can’t carry it along myself. But how do I combat these issues without myself being combative? I would love to hear your thoughtful responses about ways we can eliminate the “Versus” mentality in our communities. Let me know what your thoughts are by emailing me at mattgetsemail@yahoo.com or by messaging me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MinneLusa.

In the mean time, check out this amazing game / blog post that helps shed a little more light on the idea of equating racial equity with “a good place to live”. It’s enlightening!
https://i2.wp.com/vihart.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/parable-624x309.png

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Windows are the Windows to the Soul.

houseface

When talking with people, we tend to place a premium on their eyes. Maintaining eye contact is a social norm. We express a full range of emotions with our eyes. We look to the eyes to give us a lot of information about whats happening inside a person emotionally and even medically. “Eyes are the windows to the soul” or so the quote goes.

It’s pretty a pretty common association in popular culture to equate a house’s windows to its eyes. Makes for an easy cartoon face on a house, so long as there are only two windows on upper floors and you’re OK with the idea of being eaten by the house every time you walk in the front door.

Well, there are other arguments for the house’s windows being the “windows to its soul” even beyond convenient cartoon facial placement. The windows on a house are just as expressive about emotions happening inside as a person’s eyes are. They help us see the world in a specific way. Its easy to tell how a home feels inside by looking at the windows. Are they bright? Are they broken? Are they decorated?

Here’s an experiment for you. Take an afternoon and pick two neighborhoods to drive through – one that you don’t like going to and another that you don’t like leaving. Start in the neighborhood you don’t like, and pay special attention to the windows on the houses. Here’s my prediction. They’re closed, physically and psychologically. Many will be covered with things like miniblinds and curtains. Maybe they’re closed with plywood or bars. Whatever you find, I’ll bet the windows add a lot to your feeling that the people here are hiding. Maybe in the neighborhood you picked, it feels like people are hiding from crime or maybe the police. Maybe in the neighborhood you picked, the people are just hiding from their nosy neighbors. But they’re hiding just the same. This makes the whole neighborhood feel unwelcoming. Now, was your neighborhood a poor, crime-laden neighborhood? Or was it one of the beige plywood subdivisions? Actually, that doesn’t matter. Closed windows are just as uninviting no matter where you are.

Now roll through the neighborhood you do like. Do it any time of day, but dusk is best. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts you can see open windows on most of the houses. Maybe you can’t see all the way inside, or maybe you can. Maybe you can just see the potted plant sitting in front of the window or maybe you can see people inside moving around or watching TV or maybe sitting down to dinner. Don’t be creepy and watch them all night, but it’s OK to notice them as you drive or stroll by. In fact, most of the time, these kinds of people know they’ll be seen but don’t really have anything to hide. There’s a feeling of security in these neighborhoods. There’s a level of trust these people are showing their neighbors and even to you as a stranger. That level of trust makes a place feel safe. Actually, it can do more then just make a place feel safe. A 2006 study done in Boston, Raleigh, Bismark, and Santa Fe showed that neighborhoods who committed to an “open window policy” where they left at least 50% of their street-facing windows open during waking hours actually saw a reduction in crime and thefts for the period of time they participated. I know, that seems counter intuitive, right? “But if someone can see my big new TV, won’t they be more likely to steal it?” Well, apparently not.

Recently, I stopped and talked to a woman named Caroline who lives in the neighborhood to the north of Memorial Park on roughly 54th and Nicholas. This is a neighborhood filled with stately brick Tudor homes and affluent families. It’s like a setting for TV show, it’s so picturesque. I had stopped Caroline as she was walking her dog, and I fawned to her about how much I loved the area. We eventually got to the topic of open windows. That conversation is the reason I’m writing this blog now. Caroline’s husband is an executive. They moved here from Chicago about fifteen years ago. They initially bought a McMansion out near Elkhorn, but they moved to their current area because they felt more at home in the neighborhood. I asked if it was because of all the old homes or the mature trees. “No, I think it was actually all the open windows. The last neighborhood we lived in was all closed off. Nobody ever really knew each other because we never saw each other.” This is a common complaint with many newer neighborhoods that have been built around the idea that we should drive our cars directly into our houses and close the door behind us before retreating to our backyards with privacy fences. Caroline and her husband don’t know all of their neighbors personally, but she says they wave to everyone, often through windows.

I love old houses and old neighborhoods, but I realized that Caroline was right. Homes with open windows seem to change the expression of the neighborhood. There’s got to be some solid psychology that backs this idea, but I couldn’t find it in time to write this blog post. In Minne Lusa, one of my favorite things to see is when a house changes hands and the new family opens windows that I’ve never seen open before. There’s a pair of families that moved onto the Boulevard in the last few years who have started having open windows on houses that used to be so closed. Even without extensive renovation, these homes feel alive in a different way than before. They seem more awake. Maybe its because their eyes are open for the first time in years. If you’re a closed-window type, consider taking on this challenge. I challenge all of you to participate in our own version of the “Open Window Policy”. I challenge you to open at least 50% of your street-facing windows during waking hours for the next three months. It will show your neighbors that this is a place that is open to friends and strangers alike. I’ll be taking part in the challenge. I almost always have my windows open anyway, but you’ll be able to drive by my place and see what shows I’m watching or when I’m sitting down to dinner. If I see you outside, I’ll even wave to you!

Here’s a couple of articles about treating your home’s eyes the right way:
Heritage Windows: the Eyes of a House
Here’s a Russian take with beautiful pictures
Advocating for the Old Soul: Keeping old windows in your house

Show off your newfound realization about windows with this rockin’ tee.
windows tshirt

Also, for a fun family night, check out Monster House, an animated movie about an anthropomorphic house that was actually a lot of fun to watch. (Probably more intense than most littles can take though, so maybe wait till anyone under 7 has gone to bed.)

 

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Dead or Alive

As human beings, we’re drawn to life. In any generic environment, we are drawn to a potted plant or a pet almost immediately. We congregate with other people with other potted plants and more animals. Then, when we’ve collected enough people, plants, and animals, we call it civilization and we’re pretty proud of ourselves. Life attracts life and seems to multiply things in a way that fosters culture. This is a pretty deep subject that’s been thoroughly studied by philosophers for a long time, so I’m not going to bother adding my voice to the topic.

One thing I’ve noticed recently, though, is how life is expressed through a house. I’m sure if any of you were to take a walk through the neighborhood, you’d be able to point out dead-househouses that feel “dead” and some that feel particularly “alive.” Dead houses tend to feel darker, even during the day. Windows are all closed. Shrubbery is overgrown. Simple maintenance things like loose gutters or broken blinds have been overlooked. No matter how cheery the rest of the houses along the street feel, the “dead” house catches the eye. Sometimes these houses have actually been abandoned. Other times, they’ve just been neglected.

What I love seeing are houses that have been “dead” suddenly spark to life, often a result of a change in ownership or tenant. “Alive” houses aren’t always the prettiest on the block. A lot of the most “alive” houses have kid clutter in the yard – bikes, swingsets, etc. One of my favorite things about an “alive” house is the open windows. Most of the liveliest homes seem to have a lot of lights on inside with opened drapes and blinds. I understand keeping the drapes closed for privacy, but there’s something of a trust statement built into open windows. It’s so heartwarming to go for a walk through the neighborhood and see a family gathering at the dinner table or settling in front of the TV for movie night or having Nerf gun dart wars. I have more to say about open windows that I’ll discuss in the next blog, but I can summarize my basic thought here: Open windows tend to suggest an openness to neighbors.

alive-house

I have seen more and more houses becoming “alive” in the neighborhood this year. This last Halloween, more homes in the neighborhood were lit up and welcoming trick-or-treaters. For Thanksgiving, the streets in the neighborhood were crowded as families gathered here instead of anywhere else in the city. At Christmastime, we had more decorations on more homes than we’ve had in years. More “alive” homes translates into a more “alive” neighborhood. We’ve been seeing more neighbor involvement and more pride on a neighborhood level which is appearing to translate into individual homes as well. It’s an encouraging trend that has Minne Lusa sitting on more stable ground than we have been in a long time.

If you would like to make sure your house is one that feels “alive,” I’m including a checklist that is easy to follow. This list is not a comprehensive list. You may do some things that I have not included that are wonderful ideas, but if you don’t have any ideas, this will get you started:

  1. Turn on an outside light at night. Porch lights, garage lights, lampposts, landscape lights, etc. A little light goes a long way.
  2. Decorate for whatever holidays you observe. Let your neighbors know that you’re feeling festive.
  3. Keep plants trimmed. Mow the lawn, trim up low tree branches, cut back that humongous shrub, pull out “volunteer” trees from where they shouldn’t be.
  4. Consider opening your windows. We know you want your privacy and you hate TV glare, but open windows contribute to a feeling of neighborliness.
  5. Keep passages clear. Shovel sidewalks and driveways. Keep leaves cleared, too. We have a lot of children who walk to school who will appreciate your efforts.
  6. Take care of standard maintenance like gutters and trash.
  7. Fly a flag. Fly the Stars and Stripes, a gay pride flag, a picture of flowers and a bumblebee, or whatever you choose. Flags have been used for centuries to declare the life that is present inside the structure.

Homes that are “alive” feel that way because the people who live in them do many of the things on this list. If you want more ideas, take a walk through the neighborhood. It won’t be hard to decide which houses are “alive” and which are not. Get ideas from your neighbors. Heck, take a minute to talk with them and get their advice. Ultimately, the best way to make a neighborhood feel alive is to become part of it. A neighborhood is only as good as the people who live in it. Since we’ve got you here, we know we’ve got one of the best neighborhoods around! My family and I look forward to seeing your house really come “alive” this year!

To learn more about reviving entire neighborhoods, check out this fantastic TED talk by one of my favorite speakers, Theaster Gates, who spent time in North Omaha a few years ago. Grab a coffee and check out his ideas about how creativity and imagination can reinvigorate an entire community. It’s worth your time. 

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Does Minne Lusa have Middle-Child Syndrome?

middleFull disclosure: I’m a middle child. Sometimes it feels like it takes a middle child to notice a one. For those of you who don’t know what middle-child syndrome is or who roll your eyes when it’s mentioned, you must be firstborns or only children. Middle-child syndrome is real . . . so real.

I remember the first time I recognized that another person fell in the same birth order as myself. I was in 8th grade and was listening to a kid try to tell a story to one of his teachers. She got distracted with someone else for a minute and he just gave up in the middle of his sentence and worked on something else like he had never even been talking. “Oh my gosh! I do that same thing!” I thought. It’s a symptom of competing for attention. You see, we middle-children aren’t groomed to be the overachieving leaders like firstborns. We aren’t doted on like the baby of the family. We often are unsure of our own role in the family. We tend to gravitate to creative outlets to find our identity.

OK, so enough with Psychology 101. I hear you wondering what all this has to do with Minne Lusa. I figured out the other day why I’ve always had such a soft spot for my neighborhood – aside from all the wonderful people and great houses, that is. I realized that, right now, Minne Lusa plays a middle-child role in the Omaha family. We’re not among the really notable “firstborn” neighborhoods that gets most of the grooming and is expected to lead the way. And we’re not the baby neighborhoods out West that get doted on just because they’re young. For a long time, Minne Lusa has been unsure of its role in the big picture. We’re socially in the middle between a heavily white part of town and a heavily black part of town. We’re economically in the middle of a business district on 30th & Ames and one at 30th & State. Both sides look at us as belonging to the other side, neither one really identifying with us. We don’t own much of the popular history of Omaha, but we own more history than some people are comfortable with. If all of the neighborhoods in Omaha were family members at Thanksgiving, we’d get stuck sitting with Weird Aunt Harriett and the two cousins who wear cowboy boots and pajamas to everything.

Like a true middle child, however, Minne Lusa has crafted our own identity and grown more confident in it every year. We realized that we didn’t want to be exactly like any of our sibling communities. We feel free to pick and choose the aspects of our identity that make sense for us. It’s actually quite liberating.

Another way  that I see Minne Lusa identifying with a middle-child role is our ability to connect to people and our appreciation for creativity. This is quickly becoming our reputation around town. We are open and creative and welcoming and non-judgemental. That’s no small thing. The middle-child isn’t bent to become a CEO. They’re more likely to invent the next trendy drink and invite friends over to try it out. They see people and can relate in the way that only a person – or a neighborhood – in the middle can.

These days, it seems like we need more folks in the middle. Less extreme, less volatile, and more able to relate. We need someone between the racially and economically segregated. People want a place where there is encouragement without judgement, where they can be a part of something without having to be artificial. Minne Lusa has that in spades, and I have to believe that maybe that comes from being in the middle.

I’d love to hear about how you see Minne Lusa in relation to your own birth order personalities. Feel free to email me here or just find me on Facebook.

Not sure if your personality matches up with your birth order? Take a quick quiz HERE to find out.

Fun fact: 52% of all US Presidents have been a middle child! Also, I was going to try to find some cute video to tag on the end here like I sometimes do, but no one has made a good video about being a middle child. Go figure.

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Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

2014 House Projects 002

Like me, my house is always a work in progress.

“I’m the one with the scaffolding.”
That’s a strange way to introduce oneself, but I find it’s one of the most effective when meeting someone from the neighborhood. I’ve been progressively working on the outside of my house for quite some time and had scaffolding on the side of my house for almost 2 full years. People from the neighborhood recognize that and can immediately place where I live. Once they recognize the reference, it’s almost like we’re already friends. They smile and give  the whole “Ah Ha!” nod.

I’ve never had anyone in the neighborhood complain about the scaffolding even though I know people hope my project will eventually find its end. On the other hand, I was talking with a realtor about a neighborhood where the houses are a little more . . . alike. She mentioned that one of the houses had started a landscaping project that had taken a while to finish and neighbors were beginning to get upset. She said that in some places, people don’t mind different as long as it’s all the same kind of different. Landscaping was OK as long as it looks mostly like everyone else’s landscaping. boring

The whole rest of that conversation seemed to follow that same line of thinking. Cars, paint colors, even dogs . . . neighbors seemed to want a certain level of uniformity. It made me think of one of my favorite songs from The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. I remember listening to that song when I was young and feeling like there was a sense of comfort about the neighborhood they sang about. Then I got older and could see the irony underlining the words.

“Rows of houses that are all the same . . . and no one seems to care.”

There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” that shows this idea with all the subtle sarcasm that Burton is known for. It’s a scene I often relate to where the titular character is being driven through one of these suburban style “all the same” neighborhoods. There’s families and kids and cars that all look perfectly identical which makes the macabre nature of Edward so evident in contrast. Sometimes I feel like Edward when I drive through some of these places.

About the neighborhood I was discussing with the realtor, she felt it was kind of eerie, but I can almost understand the idea. We’re comfortable with what we know. The problem with neighborhoods where the houses are all the same is that the people living inside them are all vastly different. The homogeneity of some neighborhoods seems to be a shelled attempt to believe that we are all the same. “My neighbor is the same as me so I am safe.” This leads to a form of dishonesty about ourselves and about the people we live near. And as any 6 year old can tell you, dishonesty leads to a need to hide. Kids hide under their beds after they are dishonest. Neighbors hide behind privacy fences and garage doors.

One of the great things about Minne Lusa, and neighborhoods like it, is our honesty. Neighbors here are who they are. There is no pretending to be something we are not. Our houses aren’t so perfect that we immediately notice the one house on the block who still needs a paint job. We all have things we need to work on. We encourage each other and are genuinely glad when one us is able to afford a new roof or to put in some landscaping. We don’t hide behind privacy fences. We sit on the porch and wave to each other. We share coffee and ideas. We are not all the same, and we like that. We are not Pleasant Valley, but we are Minne Lusa and we are proud if it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAsBta25OGQ?rel=0&w=560&h=315

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Confessions of a Good Neighbor Gone Bad

I became a bad neighbor today. I’m not proud of it.

There’s no “confessional” for neighborly sins, so to speak, so I’m just gonna confess to you all instead. Judge me or don’t, I just need to get it off my chest.

An ambulance has just pulled away from a house up the street from me. I stood at my kitchen window gawking almost from the time the first firetruck pulled up. I don’t know what happened to the individual. Frankly, I don’t even know the person who lives there. The house has been in rough shape for years. I’ve heard other neighbors say the person is a hoarder. ambulance

Here’s where my neighborly sin happened. Instead of standing at my window hoping and praying for the best, I gave into a thought that went something like this: “Hey, maybe they’ll have to give up the house to someone who will take better care of it.”

That thought played out in my head for a minute or two before the sickness of it dawned on me. The house?! I’m watching a neighbor get wheeled out on a gurney, unsure whether they are even alive, and I’m thinking about paint colors and landscaping?! I felt like I turned about as green as my kitchen walls. I have always wanted what was best for the neighborhood. I love seeing people rescue these adorable bungalows and bring new life to the street. Somewhere in my head, that was the justification for my terrible thought process. I just wanted to see the house improved for the good of the neighborhood, right?

One of the core ideals in Minne Lusa has always been, “If you want a better neighborhood, be a better neighbor.” Tonight, I perverted that into, “If you want a better neighborhood, hope for a better neighbor.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG, WRONG!

Here’s where I went wrong. First, human life, especially that of a neighbor, should always be priority. I should have been concerned with the well-being of my neighbor, not their house. Second, I should know my neighbors. I’ve never so much as knocked on that door to say hello and tell them my name. Good neighbors are friendly and outgoing. Maybe that person wouldn’t have opened their door or wanted to hear my name. But I should have tried. Third, if I am concerned about the condition of the house, I have had plenty of Saturdays or Tuesdays or whatever to stop by and say, “Hey, I’m offering my time to the neighborhood today. Is there any work I can do for you as a neighbor? Gutters? Painting? Yardwork?”

“Be a better neighbor. Be a better neighbor. Be a better neighbor.” This keeps running through my head tonight. “But I have other commitments that take up my time!” “Be a better neighbor.” “But what if they think I’m a weirdo for offering?” “Be a better neighbor.” “But . . .but . . ” “BE A BETTER NEIGHBOR!”

If my confession can do anything for you, let it be this. Let it be a reminder to you that a neighborhood, this neighborhood, is made of people, not houses. Whether a house is pretty on the outside is less important than the neighbor living on the inside. Minne Lusa is a communitywonderful community. People love living here . . . because of the people. There are other neighborhoods in Omaha with bungalows. There are other old houses to buy. There is a whole network of boulevards surrounded by old homes with charm. What sets Minne Lusa apart from all of them is the PEOPLE. When those people become less important than the houses they live in, our community will start to fade and we will become no different from the beige plywood wonderlands of other communities where people tend to live rather isolated lives in their covenant-governed paint schemes.

Confessions mean nothing without a change in actions. So, with that in mind, I will be trying to connect with my neighbors throughout the summer. I will be introducing myself. Stopping for occasional chats on front porches. I’ll sacrifice an hour or two on a Saturday to do some raking or haul some trash. I want a better neighborhood, so I will be a better neighbor.

I hope you will, too!

PS. I’m feeling a little exposed and vulnerable after this confession. Help me feel better by letting me know your neighbor experiences in the comments. What have you done well? what would you do differently?

 

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The life cycle of a neighborhood

I’m getting ready to have a baby. More than 8 years after my son was born, I’m getting ready to do it all again. Diapers, late night feedings, walking, talking, potty training. It’s time to do it all again. So, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about stages in life, about how long they last and about how they don’t last. My 8yr old son is starting to get to that age where he’s developing a little individuality while recognizing that he still wants to be like his friends. It wasn’t all that long ago, he was at that age where he would have been hard to pick out of a row of kids the same age.

young2I got to thinking that neighborhoods seem to follow a lot of the same patterns in development stages as people do. Now, nobody has to potty train a string of houses, but follow along with me here. In neighborhoods, most houses are born looking perfect and innocent and almost identical, just like human babies. You ever been to a hospital nursery? Sure the babies are slightly different shades, some are slightly larger than others, but generally speaking, it’s pretty hard to tell babies apart. Visit any freshly built neighborhood and you’ll quickly recognize this stage. It’s not uncommon to see the house parents standing out front grasping each other while they beam proudly at their fresh baby house. It’s so perfect, so unaffected by the cruel world. Human babies stay in this phase for about 1 year while neighborhoods seem to stay here for about 3 years.

It takes a few years, but the baby neighborhood starts to grow up a little. In its toddler phase, the naked yards start to grow little trees that promise to give shade and hold tree houses as soon as they can. The proud house parents stand around and admire each others’ cute houses and swap adorable little anecdotes about the difficulty of having a house of this age. “Our furnace had its first littleyoung hiccup last week. Seems like we shouldn’t be dealing with that already, but they can’t stay young forever can they? Ha Ha!” “Oh don’t we know it! Why last month we had to have our little one fitted for a new roof. Golly, they just go through them so fast don’t they?” The toddling phase for humans is usually from about year 1 to about year 4. This phase for neighborhoods is usually about year 3 until about year 10.

The neighborhood gradually starts to develop a personality. Much of the initial uniformity begins to wear off as the neighborhood starts to mature. New neighbors move in and influence each house in a different way. As the trees become more established, the neighborhood really seems to come alive with the vibrancy of youth. Dogs, kids on bikes, family gatherings, barbecues all seem to be commonplace as the neighborhood is really in its fullest social stage. While humans seem to hit this mark in their mid-to-late teens, neighborhoods seem to hit this mark in their late 20’s and early 30’s. This stage carries on for about 10-12 years.

aboveThis is the pivotal point for most neighborhoods, as it is with most young adults. It’s time to really decide what kind of a place the neighborhood wants to be. It will have to face the same decisions that people do at this stage in its life. The neighborhood is now in its early 30’s, equivalent to a human about 19-21yrs old. There’s some tough choices ahead. The carefree ease of the social stage won’t last through this period on its own. The houses are getting older and will require some discipline to take care of them. Will the neighborhood contribute to the society around it? Or will it become stagnant. Anyone who’s ever been a young 20-something or has ever known one will recognize this stage. People, and neighborhoods, in this stage might be tempted to try to stay in that easy social period, but the really great ones continue to push themselves to grow and improve. The young adult phase doesn’t last long in people – about 5-7 years. But this phase can be almost indefinite for some neighborhoods with no real end point, though the average time frame seems to be somewhere between 10-20 years. This leads us into the Slump.

The Slump is real. It’s just as real for neighborhoods as it is for people in their late 20’s and early 30’s. It’s the last pieces of youth dying off before the full responsibility of adulthood really kicks in. In people, we hit the Slump and feel like we’ve been working crappy jobs for most of our lives, wondering if we’ll ever get that piece of the American Dream. In neighborhoods, the Slump can sometimes run deeper. Houses are now starting to hit 40-50 yrs old. Serious maintenance or repairs need to be considered. The styles often aren’t old enough yet to be charming for being old-fashioned. They’re often just seen as “outdated.” If the neighborhood doesn’t have a firm identity, values will start to drop as elderly house parents move on and new homeowners don’t have the money to fix 40 year old issues.

Everything quiets down for the neighborhood. It’s not really in the mood for socializing anymore. It just wants to sit down and be tired for a minute. how quickly the neighborhood ages at this point has a lot to do with the people in it. Some neighborhoods come out of the Slump when they’re about 50-60 years old. Some have to wait a little longer. Some never make it out. If a neighborhood is going to die, it will die in the Slump. DEEEpressing! Right?

Well, here’s the really cool thing, the type of thing preservationists love. When a neighborhood comes out of the Slump, it usually has a short period where it has to shake off the sleepies (about 5-10 years). But then – THEN! – the next phase is Revitalization! For all of you in your 50’s and 60’s who are really just starting to enjoy your empty nest phase and are excited about doing cool things with your retirement, this is for you! There is fresh excitement in the Revitalization phase, a second youth. Only, this time, there’s enough wisdom mixed with the youth to make things really good. Neighborhoods in this phase understand community in a completely different way than younger neighborhoods, even than the ones in the easy social stage. There’s experience in this stage that acknowledges the value of a strong identity and a strong community. I believe that this is where Minne Lusa is right now. We have come out of our long Slump and are enjoying our second youth in our Revitalization phase. We have a community that rivals just about any neighborhood in Omaha. We understand that these houses aren’t the little babies fresh and innocent that they once were. They take a little more upkeep. They creak and leak a little in places. But there’s a distinguished kind of character in all of the laugh lines and cracks in the plaster.

So what’s the next phase for neighborhoods? For Minne Lusa? Well, with the proper planning and appropriate care, Revitalization becomes the Established Phase. This is the era of revered dignity. Think of your insidegrandparents dancing together in their early 80’s. There was something about that grace and permanence that was so desirable. Something about the style and character of a different era seems so romantic. This phase for neighborhoods, like the Slump, can be indefinite. Some Established Phase neighborhoods can carry on for generations, never losing their appeal. If we can really utilize the Revitalization period, I see Minne Lusa becoming one of Omaha’s Established neighborhoods, a place that people will always be trying to get into.

I used to loathe some brand new neighborhoods for their brand-newness. I used to think they were inferior just for being young. But now I understand that Minne Lusa was a baby neighborhood at one point. Part of me would love to be able to have seen Minne Lusa when it was fresh, but I’m more excited about what it is becoming. While the past is endearing, the future is always more exciting.

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An Open Letter to Anyone who can help: Please, they’re going to kill me.

I live in the wrong part of town, and it’s going to be the death of me. I have watched over the years as they have killed my neighbors. One by one, then whole groups at a time. Violent. Wasteful. I’m afraid for my life, for real. This is a legit plea for help.

New neighbors move in. They say it’s going to help, but I don’t believe it. Lots of new neighbors just mean that many old ones have died. And, honestly, when there’s so few of us old neighbors left, it just seems to make us targets. The new neighbors are starting to become the aggressors. They are targeting me.

Look, I’m a good neighbor. I’m clean, quiet, traditional. I don’t feel like I deserve to die. I DEFINITELY don’t deserve to die. You can call me paranoid. You can say that I’m afraid for no reason, but they’re coming for me. Right now.

They tell me there are better places for neighbors like me. If only I had been born in a more progressive city, someplace that has been at the forefront of developing the kind of rights I need to survive. I wish that someone in charge would listen for once, but the government seems to be perpetrating the attacks on me. I don’t know if I represent some kind of a threat to people or what, but I don’t think I’m going to survive much longer.

I hope you don’t think I’ve given up. I haven’t. I just have to accept reality. I’m going to die, and soon. The ones that love me don’t seem to know how to stop the ones that hate me and there’s literally nowhere else for me to go.

Look, if you think you can help, if you want to do something, go to the authorities. Let them know what’s happening to me, that they need to do something. Maybe go to the media? I feel like they’ve stopped listening to me after all these years. Maybe they’ll listen to you.

If they need to know where to find me, I’ll be in the same place I’ve been for the last 131 years. 1110 Douglas Street.

Seriously, Help Me!
The Specht Building

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Talking Dirty in Minne Lusa

I remember my first experience uttering a foul 4-letter word.

I went to a small private school staffed with teachers that rivaled the nuns of many old Catholic schools when it came to pure rigidity. These teachers (who truly did care for me) taught me the meaning of a “healthy fear.” One incident has always stood out to me – the day I said the “S” word.

My older brother tended to hang out with kids who were most comfortable standing on the other side of the moral fence and throwing rocks at all the goodie-goodies who were too chicken to follow. It was by listening to these kids that I learned the proper usage and context for the “S” word. I carried that knowledge in to my first grade classroom one sunny day towards the end of the schoolyear. I had spent the majority of the afternoon sending my imagination into orbit while my eyes glazed over and my math paper sat unfinished.

My first grade teacher sternly called my attention back to the room. “Son, you’re going to stay after school until you finish that entire math paper!”

What?! No way! It was like 75° outside! My frustrated panic came bubbling out faster than my 7 year old brain could process. “Bull $#!+ I will!” I exclaimed like a little sailor. That day, my mother told my principal to wash out my mouth with soap. I could hear her over the phone.

I never grew up to be the swearing type, because that day I learned that some words are just going to offend people. Some words are just not acceptable in polite company. And that seems to carry over to neighborhoods as well; only, here, the bad word has more than 4 letters.

I’m gonna tell you what it is, ok? Don’t freak out. The bad word for a neighborhood is . . . gentrification! *GASP!*

Ok, so it doesn’t create a visceral reaction like some of the snappier 4 letter words, but it still offends many people. Here’s why: gentrification is a term that, according to Webster, means “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Basically, old neighborhoods revive as new residents and developers move in, and existing residents can’t afford to keep living there.

Your feelings about gentrification will largely depend on which side of the transition you experience. The prevailing feeling is that as these outside people move in, previous residents feel pushed out, discriminated against, or isolated due to their race or economic status. The other side of the argument states that gentrification brings lower crime rates and more economic stability. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Documented cases of broad and rapid gentrification in cities like New York and San Fransisco highlight the devastating impact to honest hardworking families who have relied on their affordable rent in order to make ends meet. Many cultural scars remain in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx where rent prices exploded in the 80’s and 90’s as developers intentionally pushed people out of their homes in order to buy low and sell high. San Fransisco is experiencing much of the same problem right now in areas of town that have been historically multi-cultural, blue-collar communities. The increased rent prices virtually guarantee that the existing families have to leave or go broke. This leaves buildings vacant and ripe for developers to renovate.

“So isn’t that what is happening in Minne Lusa?” my wife asks me. That’s a legit question. So what exactly is happening in Minne Lusa? Are we experiencing gentrification, good or bad? I don’t think so. Let me clarify.

Gentrification is the effect of outside development and culture pouring money in to essentially change the culture of an area. It is outside pressure.

Revitalization, on the other hand, is the effect of the existing culture and residents investing time and effort into improving what already exists. It is not a changing of the culture. It is an activation of the culture. This is what is happening in Minne Lusa. Are we attracting new homeowners? Yes. But the new homeowners are moving in because they want to be part of the community that already exists here. IMG_0645We are still attracting neighbors from across the socioeconomic spectrum. We are appealing to all races and economic groups, all religions and political persuasions.

So for all of you who fear hearing that dirty word – “gentrification” – rest assured that the word you should be hearing and saying is “revitalization.” Home values are rising. Investment is beginning. Our reputation is improving. But these are all happening because of us, because we are making it happen. No developer is imposing their view of what Minne Lusa “should be,” because we already know what it should be. Anyone coming here is doing so because we already have our identity.

Minne Lusa will continue to improve over the upcoming years. But I can promise you that you will recognize it. It will not become something else.  It will be exactly what is has always been – a welcome home for everyone who wants to be part of a diverse community.

Now for the goodies:

Check out our fundraising campaign to get signage that will help welcome people to Minne Lusa.
Please, consider giving at least $5 per month for the next 5 months.

sign

Click Here to Check Out Our Fundraiser

Also, here’s a quick chart showing the impact our Historic District designation has had on home prices. The real takeaway is watching that bottom tier of prices jump up. This effectively eliminates many of the slumlords who snatch up bottom tier homes and do the minimum amount of work before trying to get families to live in them.

Restore2015Graph outlines-page-001

And finally, SNL takes a stab at the gentrification of Brooklyn. (Funny, but beware some salty language.)

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The Power of Babel

When I was growing up, my family was the church-going kind – like the multiple times-a-week, involved in choirs, programs, and volunteering kind. My dad was the janitor, for goodness sake. So when literally no one else was at church, I was at church. I’m not interested in discussing religion at the moment, but I bring this up to say that I remember a lot of the Bible stories from my childhood. One of these stories has come to the forefront of my mind recently but for a reason that was never taught in Sunday school.

So, basically, the quick version goes like this: After God makes mankind, people become bad. Really bad. So bad that God regrets ever making man. So he tells Noah – like the only decent person He can find – “Get ready, build a boat, 2 of every kind of animal” – you remember. After all of that, Noah’s family survives the flood and starts to repopulate the earth again. Okay, now what happens after that? Most people don’t remember much after the ark lands, but there’s a really important story that comes right after that with a hidden little piece of info that gets glazed over.
babel
In the story, civilization is building up again. People are still all speaking the same language. They decide, “We need to build a city with a big tower. This will bring us all together and keep us from scattering.” Well, you may remember that the people build the Tower of Babel – basically an attempt to claim deity status alongside God. Then God says, “Look if these people keep speaking the same language, nothing will be impossible for them. Scramble them up and send them on their way.”

Now, a lot of people tend to focus on the scrambling of the languages or the arrogance of the builders or any other number of theological points. I want to bring focus to something a little different – the idea that a building can create unity. Recently, the Omaha City Council voted to remove Landmark status from the Clarinda and Page buildings along historic Turner Boulevard. When I was having a dialogue with someone at work recently, I was asked, “What difference does it make if the buildings are torn down?”

At that point, I could understand the intentions of the builders of Babel. The real significance of the tower, at least to me now, is that the builders understood the ability of a significant building to provide stability, unity, and identity to the people around it. Was everyone going to live in the Tower? No. But it was to be part of their cultural consciousness. I’m not saying that the Clarinda would unify the people of Omaha or prevent people from scattering. I am saying, though, that these historic buildings hold part of our identity as a city, and with each building that falls, so does a piece of who we are.clar149

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if Omaha seems to lack a clear identity at times, it is probably because we as a culture have not yet learned the power of Babel. Well, in Minne Lusa, we are adamant about preserving our history and our built environment. There is an identity here that is unique, and it permeates the walls of our homes. Our culture is hidden in the woodgrain of our mantles. Our perspective is influenced by the ripples in our glass. Every creaky step, every glass doorknob, every shingle bears testament to the stories that have passed through the hands of time here. These places are sacred. They hold our history as a people. When you buy a home in Minne Lusa, you inherit the history of the families that lived, cried, married, died there before you. The built environment you come home to each night was there before you were born and, if cared for properly, will be there long after you die. Whether you intend to or not, you are adding your history to its walls. This is more than a romantic notion. Architects, preservationists, sociologists, and scientists the world over repeatedly confirm the importance of use to maintaining a building’s life just as they confirm the importance of familiar built environments to our sense of identity and belonging. When people talk about the importance of old buildings, it is so much more than just wanting to see bricks and mortar. There is a real and measurable benefit to maintaining our Babels, our Clarindas, our Minne Lusas.

Another lesson Babel teaches us is that nothing can stop us when we are united. Whether you believe the Biblical account is true or not, the lesson has persisted at least as long as the story. Cultures have acknowledged for millennia that incredible things are possible for us if we can work together for a common goal. What kinds of things could be possible for us in Minne Lusa if we could really harness the Power of Babel?

If you are curious about the story of the Tower of Babel, you can find it in Genesis 11:1-8. It’s not a long read and you don’t have to do anything with the theology in order to see some of the morals of the story. Check it out if you’d like. Any story that has endured for thousands of years must have some kind of social benefit beyond only religion. Can you find it?

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