Posts Tagged With: love

Reflections: 10 years of “Living Down North”

The end of October marks the 10th anniversary of my family’s time in Minne Lusa. As some of you know, I ain’t from around these here parts. The neighborhood where I grew up was nice, but it was no Minne Lusa. As a matter of fact, when my wife and I were looking for our first house to buy, we were surprised to find this place where we found it.

We moved in at the end of October in 2007. Our oldest son was less than three months old when we opened our front door for the first time. We have had ten years of life and memories in this house, in this neighborhood. As I try to process the idea that a decade has already passed, I’ve spent a good amount of time reflecting on what is the same and what is different.

Let me start with what feels the same. When my wife and I first moved into the neighborhood, we had just had our first son. We were trying to figure out how to be parents and we wanted a place that would be good for a young boy to grow and play in. Recently, after several years of trying to have a child without success, we have had a second son who is close in age at our tenth year to what our firstborn was in our first. We’re trying to remember how to be good parents. And we still want a neighborhood that is good for a young boy to grow and play in. When we first moved in, we relied on existing neighbors to help us feel at home in our community. Now, many of those same neighbors continue to make my family feel at home.

When we moved in, Minne Lusa was a neighborhood that had not yet fully realized its potential. Ten years later, that may still be true. We have made great strides in the last decade, but our real potential still remains unfulfilled. I’ve always had a vision of Minne Lusa being the community that starts to change unfair perceptions of large portions of North Omaha. I’ve always believed that we could be a local and national model for the transforming power of community. We’ve definitely taken good steps towards that, but we’re still waiting for that next level of neighbor participation. Major change will only happen with major involvement.

Many things have changed in the last 10 years, too. When we first moved in, Minne Lusa was a neighborhood without much of an identity. We had little to offer that would distinguish us from other Omaha neighborhoods. Now, we have a fairly effective brand that revolves around the kind of community that fuels Saturday Mornings at the Minne Lusa House, Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard, the incredibly fun Annual Golf Scramble, and the cheering section for the Omaha Marathon. Crime is down by almost 40% in the last 10 years and home values have risen significantly. We have been designated as an Historic District and have decorative signs installed on the Boulevard that welcome visitors and neighbors alike. We still haven’t solved the “Bad Landlord” issue, but we’ve improved the “Good Neighbor” ratio.

One of the biggest things to have changed in the last 10 years is that people aren’t surprised anymore when good things happen here. We’ve consistently worked hard to make those good things happen, to the extent that it is no longer unexpected to hear that this little North Omaha neighborhood is doing something awesome. In the first year or two of my time here, getting good press for Minne Lusa was like catching a unicorn. It was rare – virtually nonexistent. It was almost startling for people to see us in the press. Now, we’ve been in the news, locally and regionally, enough times that people aren’t  surprised anymore. That may not seem as exciting to you, but let me tell you, it’s an awesome thing. We’re a long way off from where we as a community have a vision to be, but we are a long, long way away from where we were 10 years ago.

There are a lot of emotions tied to my family’s decade in this house, in this community. This place and these people mean more to me than any of them know. The creaks in my steps, the cracks in my walls, the smell of the leaves on the sidewalks – all of these things and a hundred others have become a part of me in a way I never expected. I don’t know where I’ll be in another decade. I can hardly prepare for the coming week because life moves so fast. I can only hope that 10 years from now, I’ll be able to sit down again and look at how much Minne Lusa has continued to change and how much it has continued to stay the same.

I talk a lot about my experiences in Minne Lusa, but I’d love to hear your observations about the last decade in Minne Lusa or your vision for the next one. You can email me at mattgetsemail@yahoo.com or message me at http://www.facebook.com/MinneLusa.

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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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And What Have You Been Up To?

When I was growing up, my brothers and I ran around the neighborhood doing what boys do. We jumped neighbors’ fences, climbed trees, played in the dirt, fell through the convertible top of the classic car parked down the alley (wasn’t me, I swear!). We would hit each other with sticks and throw dirt clods at each other. We had epic battles involving everything from soldiers to cowboys, from pirates to aliens, sometimes all at once.

“How does she always know?”

We would play until the street lights beckoned us home for dinner. We would all spill through the back door bloodied, bruised, muddied, and exhausted. Mom would ask us, “And what have you been up to?” Now, if you read my post about the Porch Ladies, you would know that this was a trick question. Still, we would always answer with “Nuthin!”

It wasn’t that we were wanting to hide anything from her. It was just that what we were out doing was so much a part of our everyday that it seemed mundane to tell her – and we especially knew that she would be bored to hear about the convertible roof.

Well, lately I’ve been running around the neighborhood again which has kept me from posting recently. I have gotten a couple of people asking, “And what have you been up to?” To which I have habitually replied, “Nuthin!” This is definitely not true. I have decided that maybe it would be good for you to really know. Plus, I have completely avoided convertible cars for years, so I have nothing to hide.

Siding Project (Personal)
The hail storm of August 2011 allowed us to put a new roof on our home which was badly needed. Christmas Eve last year, the last shingle went on, and, for the first time since we bought the house in 2007, we have only one kind of roofing. We even passed on the new gutters and window screens in order to get the really fancy triple-laminated, hail and fire resistant super shingles (apparently in case something biblical happens with fire and ice falling from the sky). Since the roof looked so nice, I decided the rest of the house could use a little updating, too.

Put roof on. House looks good 🙂

Soooooo . . .  I tore the siding off am tearing the siding off. Not the original siding (all you preservationists can breathe a sigh of relief). I’m talking the asbestos tile siding put on in presumably the late 40’s or early 50’s (don’t breathe that sigh too deeply, asbestos is bad news). This has been slow going as I can only send a few bags at a time, properly wrapped and labeled of course, to the landfill. I get overwhelmed at times and stand on the sidewalk staring at my house trying to wrap my head around the next step. So, if you ever see me out there just looking at my house, pat me on the back and reassure me to take it one step at a time.
Status: Work in progress

Now, pertaining to neighborhood projects, I kind of have a hard time keeping track of all the things I’ve started, but I’ll do the best I can to recap.

You may see bikes like this roaming Minne Lusa soon.

Minne Lusa Bike-Share
All through the summer, I have been laying the groundwork for a bike-sharing program for Minne Lusa. Here’s the idea: Minne Lusa is looking to have between 4-6 bikes available for neighbors to use for free if they need to exercise or run to the grocery store or simply go for a picnic with the family. I hope that by doing this we can increase bicycle awareness and culture in the area, support local businesses, reduce emissions, improve neighbor health, and create a unique identity for the neighborhood. We’re also hoping local businesses join in supporting us by making sure they offer bike racks and also maybe offering a discount to riders on a Minne Lusa bike. I have been working with the city and a couple of local groups to get info on how to get this up and running.
Status: Work in progress

Historic Parks and Boulevards Master Plan
I won’t give you a history lesson here, so I encourage you to research a little bit about Omaha’s Historic Parks and Boulevards System. It was a big deal in its day and rightfully so. It was a beautiful way to quickly move from place to place across town. It was designed for attractive views and quick commutes.

This 1917 image may give you an idea of what Minne Lusa Blvd may look like in the future.

Though it has lost much of its original notoriety, it is still an integral part of Omaha’s streetscape today. Minne Lusa has been influential in recent design meetings with the city about how best to revitalize and re-brand this historic gem of the city. Our input has helped establish design guidelines and project priorities for the city. This won’t be something done in the next year or two, but it is instead a comprehensive plan to be implemented in portions over the coming decade.  Check out the details here. Really exciting stuff.
Status: Ongoing

Be watching for more events like this in the coming year.

Backyard Bonfire
Over the last couple of years, I have noticed many young people and families moving into the area. I try to talk to them as they walk on the Boulevard, but it’s hard to have much conversation with kids or dogs peeing on your shoes, so off they go. I have encouraged many of them to come to the Neighborhood Association meetings (which are on the 1st Thursday of every month in the Miller Park Pavilion at 7PM, in case you were wondering). Some have come, few have come back.

Instead, I decided I just need to meet these people on neutral territory and get to know them. I also wanted them to get to know each other. In the middle of October, I sent out 8 invites to a few people in the area to come to a Backyard Bonfire. We met at the Minne Lusa House for chili, beverages, and conversation. If you didn’t get an invite, don’t worry. We’ve got another in the works for mid-late January. Let me know if you’re interested in showing up or know someone we should invite.
Status: Completed

Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard
Minne Lusa has always had a reputation for being a premier trick-or-treat spot in the area. The past few years have seen some decline in its popularity and involvement. However, this year we held the first annual Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard.

Currently our most notable event.

We had a “Not-So-Haunted House” for the littlest kiddos, which was basically a tent with volunteers in costumes handing out candy amid decorations. We gave out about 200 hot dogs (called hallo-weiners. Get it? Yeah, it’s ok to laugh and/or roll your eyes). We had “Spook Island” on the north end of the Boo-levard where kids could get popcorn, juice boxes, and an unexpected visit from one of the “decorations.” Neighbors raved about the event and pledged their involvement for next year. We were featured in the Omaha World Herald as one of the 5 best spots in Omaha to trick-or-treat. Next year is already looking to be bigger and better with a photo booth for taking keepsake photos of your kiddos in costume, a hot cocoa stand, and *possibly* a petting area with goats and rabbits. If there’s anything we do that can put Minne Lusa on the map, it’s this event.
Status: Completed

Wine Walk
What’s better than spending the holidays wandering into neighbors’ houses and drinking their wine before rambling out the door with an assortment of hors d’ouevres on your way to another lovely house with more wine and neighbors? We’re working on a Wine Walk along Florence Boulevard as an opportunity for neighbors to get together for fine food and drink with the opportunity to view and tour some of the larger and grander homes in our area. This is still in concept stages, but we’ve had a lot of interest in it so far.
Status: Pending

Retail/Shopping/Dining
If there’s anything that’s conspicuously absent in Minne Lusa, it is quality dining and retail establishments. You want dollar stores? We’ve got those. But signature dining experiences? We’re running a little short since Mr. C’s closed on September 30, 2007. While we do have some good eating establishments in the area, we lack a signature establishment in the immediate proximity of Minne Lusa. Retail is nonexistant unless you consider dollar stores and secondhand shops. Grocery stores aren’t faring any better. We have the last Baker’s in Omaha to get updated, our NoFrills has a reputation for spoiled produce and outdated dairy, and we lack anything with an organic food presence. If you were to take a snapshot of our area retail/shopping/dining establishments, you might be led to believe that we prefer to buy anything priced at $1. I’m trying to woo Trader Joe’s to move into a building on 30th Street instead of putting a location downtown. This has been a bit of a tough pitch and I need a lot of community support to back me up on it. Go here to ask for a location in Minne Lusa.
Status:
Pending

This may be the view as you enter Minne Lusa soon.

Nomination to National Register of Historic Places
Fake it till you make it. We’ve all heard it, and some of us have done it. Well, I’ve referred to Minne Lusa as an Historic District for a while now without any formal designation to back that up. I’ve essentially been “faking it.” However, I’ve been working with the Nebraska State Historical Society, the City of Omaha Planning Dept, and Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture to write a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places to have Minne Lusa officially listed as an Historic District. This has been my pet project. It’s been a huge priority for me since moving here in 2007. I’m certainly not the first to have this idea. A lot of preliminary work was done to pave the way for me to push for this idea. I have been helped along immensely by people in each of the offices listed above. There has been huge support from other neighborhoods, the city, the state, as well as our own neighbors. This has confirmed to me that this is a project whose time has come. When we first started this effort, we were told to expect that only Minne Lusa Blvd and maybe Redick Ave might be considered. Currently, however, we are working on including 70% of the neighborhood, making this one of the largest (if not the single largest) historic districts in Omaha. This will be a huge win for Minne Lusa when it comes to establishing a brand recognition to help market the area to future homeowners and prospective businesses. I can’t wait to see this come to fruition. If anyone is intersted in helping with the research, we’d be glad for the assistance.
Status: Work in progress

Then there’s the Facebook Page and this blog. These projects and a hundred others constantly keep me running. I love, love, LOVE doing this. I wish I could make this my profession so I didn’t have to interrupt these projects to go earn a paycheck. I wholeheartedly believe in Minne Lusa and will do everything I can to make sure the rest of Omaha knows about and comes to love this amazing neighborhood. So, now, if you see me running around the neighborhood bloodied, bruised, muddied, and exhausted, you’ll know that I’m just up to more “nuthin!”

Hopefully, this gives you an insight into the awesome things in the works for our neighborhood and spurs something inside you to want to jump in.

If you are interested in being involved in anything I’ve mentioned here, or if you have your own pet project, let me know. Many hands make light work. Minne Lusa needs people to be passionate about it for it to be brought back to its full potential, and I just have a hunch that you just might be the person we need.

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What I Hate About Minne Lusa.

I moved to Minne Lusa in 2007, so I’m relatively new to the area. I grew up on the opposite side of town. I had never really heard of this area until my older brother bought a house here. I would come to visit him, but I knew little else than how to get to his street. When my wife and I were looking for a house, we had a very specific list of features and amenities that we wanted in a house and in a neighborhood. We found ourselves in Minne Lusa several times and ended up buying our home right on the Boulevard which we dearly love.

Since moving in, I have advocated wholeheartedly for Minne Lusa. I have talked it up to friends, have tried selling area houses to colleagues and family members who may or may not have been in the market, I have preached the virtues of this as a wonderful place to live. I don’t regret a second of it. I firmly stand behind everything I’ve ever said.

However . . . I feel that I have earned the right to say some things. I don’t ever mention them to people because I don’t want them to get the wrong impression of my treasured Minne Lusa, but alas, the time has come for me to talk about . . . What I Hate About Minne Lusa! (Duhn, duhn, duuuuhhnn! *dramatic music*)

1. I get tired of spelling Minne Lusa to every person I talk to who doesn’t live here.

2. I hate giving geography lessons to people. (OK, do you know where the Mormon Bridge is? What about Metro’s Fort Campus? Well if you go north on 75 until it turns into 30th St . . . )

3. I hate that people who don’t live here think it’s “the ghetto.” Do you even know what a ghetto is?

Ghetto

Minne Lusa. See the difference?

4. I hate that some people who DO live here think it’s “the ghetto.” If this is you, either open your eyes or buy a Celebrity home. (I know I’m going to hear from all my friends who own a Celebrity home. Let’s be real folks, you know my opinions.)

5. I hate that so many people around here still just shrug off the sound of a siren or the sight of a police cruiser as an acceptable daily happening. Most people don’t even stop watching  “Glee” long enough to stick their head out the window to see what’s going on.

Too Many Litterbugs ‘Round These Parts

6. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE . . .HATE! . . . the litter that I find on the Boulevard. My son and I take walks on the Boulevard with his little Radio Flyer wagon and absolutely fill it to overflowing with litter. My son is well versed now on how litter “makes the ground sick” and stops to pick up trash every time we’re out. THAT’S NOT MY SON’S JOB!! So to you kids who threw your plastic drink bottles on the ground the other day, I saw you! To the well dressed business man in the new black Impala who tried to discreetly let his Kit-Kat wrapper flutter out of his hand while his arm hung out the window, I saw you! And to the Schmuck in the grey Pontic Vibe who threw a whole Burger King bag out the window as you raced down the Boulevard, I saw you . . .and followed you! I even gave your licence plate number to the “Keep Nebraska Beautiful Litter Hotline” (877-NO LITTR or 877-665-4887 for all you other litter nazis like me). Everyone, PLEASE, quit littering. Just hold onto it until you get home.

What number am I on now? I got all fired up for a minute. Ah yes –

7. I hate that the elm trees that lined the Boulevard decades ago all died off and that they were never replaced with comparable trees.

8. I hate that the beautiful decorative lights that once lined our neighborhood streets were torn out sometime in the past and were never replaced.

9. I hate that I have to bounce and jostle my way home on about every third street because the city has let our streets get so bad.

10. Maybe I hate the bouncy streets a little less when I think about this one. I live across from Minne Lusa elementary, and I cannot even count the number of time during school hours that someone has come racing down the Boulevard at 40-50 mph. There are kids right on the other side of that fence! Cool it, Hot Wheels! I have gotten into the habit of casually walking into the middle of the street when I hear the folk of leaden feet about a block away. This slows them down long enough for me to point out that it is a school zone not a qualifying lap. My neighbor is concerned that one day, he’ll come out to just find me squashed in the road. He might be right. Maybe I should just look into a speed bump instead.

11. Rentals. I don’t hate renters. Some of my best neighbors are renters. But I hate rentals, mostly because landlords don’t care for them the way a homeowner would and renters are limited on what they can do. There’s an entire street of rentals in Minne Lusa where all the houses are owned by one guy. The houses are worn down and neglected. Again, not the renters fault, it’s not their house. Here’s the kicker. The owner lives on the same street! His own house is pristine! I don’t know yet how to approach that issue so I dedicate my resources to areas where I know I can have success, but this is going to be tough nut to crack. And it’s going to have to crack. (Any ideas?)

There are always going to be things that bother us about where we live to some extent because we share the space with other human beings. My wife and I love Minne Lusa and we’re proud to call it home. My son will grow up with utopian memories of this place. I continue to campaign for my treasured Minne Lusa. I love the place, and I am impressed by how much positive momentum I have seen recently. I hope that if you have not checked out Minne Lusa recently, that you like it as much as I do. I hope that I have not scared anyone away.

I would like to hear from you. What are your hot spots in Minne Lusa? What do you love? And (dare I ask?) what do you hate?

**Editing Note – in my comment about litter, I had previously mistakenly said the owner of the Vibe worked at the barber shop on 30th St. I have been corrected on this twice as the owner of the barber shop indeed lives in the area and has a good reputation. The owner of the Vibe has no affiliation with the barber shop or its staff. Thank you to those who corrected me on this mistake.**

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