I took this picture on our walk today.
Urban Living: Colorado Springs Old North End
Many things inspired me toward urban living. My childhood experiences in the Old North End of Colorado Springs were incredibly impressionable. My sister sang in an old folk house, the Blue House, which was a bungalow. My father worked at Colorado College during this same time. Although my memories of the college are faint, my memories of the surrounding houses and apartments are vivid. I loved driving through that neighborhood with my dad. He’d take me to the old post office and the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I loved seeing all the brightly painted Victorian houses – some tackier than others. I wanted to live in one of those houses where the trees were taller and the sidewalks wider than in the neighborhoods that were most familiar to me. There was always something wholesome about the Old North End, and every historic neighborhood I saw thereafter. They each reminded me of a storybook I had when I was little. All the little girls wore gloves to Sunday School and walked to church.
Urban Living OKC: Mesta Park
Another thing that inspired me toward urban living and a move to the inner city was. oddly enough, a movie called Green Card, which came out one year before I first moved to the inner city. I fell in love with one of the character’s apartments and set out to rent one like it. I found and rented Alta Vista in Mesta Park. It is a four-plex that was originally built for state legislators. The lawmakers needed places to live during the annual legislative session; places that were close to the state capital. The apartment, which boasted a fireplace and hardwood floors, was a sprawling unit designed with entertaining in mind. I have so many sweet memories of the year I lived in Alta Vista. I bought massive begonias and hung them on the balcony.
Nazarene Peniel Mission, Watts Tower
Trips I made to Nazarene Peniel Mission, a homeless ministry in downtown Los Angeles, also influenced me. It was the early 1970s and my father took us on a regular basis to minister to indigents and drunks. (You can read more about Growing up Nazarene in this post.) I grew up not fearing the inner city. In 4th grade, I learned about the Watts Towers. I wanted to go! I wanted to see them more than Disneyland or anywhere else for that matter. I started collecting junk and dreamt of building my own Watts Tower in my backyard.
Urban living can be a mixed bag. We are bookended by the rich and the poor. All across Oklahoma are glaring realities of growing income disparity, which practically nobody wants to talk about. But, it’s right there in the Census, and can’t be denied. Here, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It’s disconcerting, to say the least.
Without a doubt, a variety of weird and eccentric people and things can be found in and around historic neighborhoods. Every day, on my way to pick up my daughter from school, I see a woman walking a three-legged dog. And, that dog has absolutely nothing on the dog I saw at the Paseo Arts Festival in May. It had only two legs and walked upright. This is in stark contrast to the society mavens who parade giant poodles about town in convertibles. I must admit, they are all adorable – the mavens and the poodles.
Generation X and Urban Living
Finally, there is something positively Generation X about urban living. I like to think it was a niche in Generation X – what some call the Creative Class — that initiated the reversal of white flight. I like to think we our dreams weren’t dependent on a suburban ideal. We began an isolated journey back to the urbanscape, only to discover it was a much more collective effort. It was a quiet rebellion.
We learned (as we paid off gargantuan student loan debt) that the McMansion (Douglas Coupland’s word) dreams came at a high price. They were largely unrealized, and when they were, they weren’t what they were cracked up to be. We weighed the challenges and risks of urban living against the realities of drugs (available everywhere); growing domestic violence (more a suburban than an urban problem), and what it meant to come of age with AIDS. What harm were we escaping living in suburbia? And thus, card-carrying members of Generation X‘s creative class, put the car in reverse and headed right into the very neighborhoods we were told we were lucky to have escaped.