Posts Tagged With: perspective

The “Versus” Mentality 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 or by messaging me on Facebook at

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!

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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 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 get most of the grooming and are 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.

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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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Like Flowed Glass


Ripples in old windows adds to their charm

When I was young, I lived in a 100 year old house. My bed was always next to a window. I would lay in bed on summer mornings and just stare out my window at our tree or our clothesline.

The hundred year old glass, like many older windows, had ripples. I remember thinking this was because the window was suffering from its age, and I looked at it as a regrettable feature. As I would look out the window, I would often use the ripples in the glass to distort a bird sitting on his perch. He would elongate and contract as I moved my head back and forth. I would even try to get my eyes in just the right place to almost make the bird disappear. I would look at how the telephone wires looked like they had been cut every few feet and were barely touching all their pieces in a little zigzag. I would imagine that the voices of the people talking on the phones must sound strange as they moved along these wires suddently dropping off every few words as the line met its next cut.

Over the years, I began to appreciate this defect in our old windows. I realized that it had allowed me to view things with a different perspective, adding more character to what was on the other side. What was just a bird became something that could change shape and disappear. Wires, trees, light from the neighbors porch all took on different apearances. When it came time for me to buy my own home, I realized that I was hoping for ripples in the glass, just one of a hundred characteristics of old houses that made them seem warm and intimate to me.

Minne Lusa is a hundred year old neighborhood. Over the years it has developed its own ripples and characteristics. Some people look at it and think the neighborhood is suffering from its age, and they look at it as a regrettable feature. But the ripples and characteristics of this beautiful neighborhood are attracting the imaginations of a new generation of homeowners, looking out their windows and seeing things with a different perspective, seeing more character in the things on the other side. People are just hoping for the “ripples in the glass,” making Minne Lusa seem warm and intimate to them, too.

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