Gradually, Downtown develops a sense of community
Since we have moved Downtown, I have missed a sense of neighborhood. Just yesterday, as my friend Jim and I turned to walk across Washington Avenue, he said, "This place is really feeling like a neighborhood now, isn't it?"
I was surprised by his observation. I have lived here for two years, and the changes have not seemed as dramatic because they have been so gradual.
I can hear the kids at the Somali school around the corner playing kickball on the parking lot gravel. The streets are bustling with workmen and lunch-goers, stopping at Bunker's for a burger or McGee's for a sandwich. Some of them look familiar now and smile, as though they know me, as though I know them. The man who takes his cigarette break outside the shipping facility behind us just as I walk the dog at midday, smiles and says "Hi, Louis," as we go by.
There is a waiter at Bobalu who greets me now and offers me a coffee after lunch, knowing this is my habit. The garden behind our building is greening up, and people are coming out on their decks. I recognize dogs almost more often than their owners, and an informal, serendipitous "dog club" has formed. It is becoming a neighborhood.
Maybe, too, I am trying out a new definition of neighborhood. I always thought the word connoted kids and late-night football in the streets, or rows of backyards, their barbecues going all summer. Yet I like that we now live in a community that has a distinct feel to it, an architecture of square, warehouse buildings, brick fronts and blues music. I like that there is still an abundance of artists, who walk up Washington with their huge portfolios flapping in the wind. I enjoy the view of Downtown I get if I lean against our living room wall and peek to the left.
Four or five years ago, I read about a woman who had to move out of her Brooklyn neighborhood into a new one 10 blocks away. She said that it was like moving into a new country. I did not understand at the time how she could be so traumatized by such a short distance. I thought of her again Saturday night as we drove to an art opening at the Homewood Gallery in North Minneapolis, then to South Hennepin for dinner and then home. I thought of her when we went to a Sunday movie in Uptown and on to a friend's house on Blaisdell and West 38th Street and then by the new Franklin Avenue bakery. Each setup was unique to its historical function or in response to groups who have moved in. In my area, the Farmers' Market is about to open, a sign of spring only 10 blocks from our home.
There have been times when I have strained at constraints I feel when writing for this newspaper. After all, we have so much in common, why feel restricted to writing about one, single area of the city? Yet lately, I have felt less and less confined by this part of my job. Newspapers like this one that cater to one geographical area have a lot to do. And as our neighborhood grows, as (hopefully) a grocery store, restaurants, coffee shops and stores move in, along with the plethora of condominiums going up all along the streets around me, the North Loop will become more distinctive, more a defined community.
This is not to say it hasn't always had flavor. We will lose some of this, too, as the lofts go up and the artists are told to leave. The hope is still that we will meld, become our own community, our own mix. Now I watch as spring wants to burst into new trees along 8th Avenue North. It is softening around here, and the kids' voices are clear as bells in the morning recess time.
Julie Landsman lives in North Loop.