Monthly Archives: January 2016

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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