Many things inspired me, personally, 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, 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 not. I loved driving through that neighborhood with my father. 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 more tacky 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.
Another thing that inspired me to move to the inner city, oddly enough, was 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 as much like it as I could find.
I found and rented Alta Vista in Mesta Park. It is a four-plex that was originally built with state legislators in mind. The state lawmakers needed places to live during the annual legislative session; places that were close the state capital. The apartment, which boasted a fireplace and hardwood floors, was a sprawling unit designed with entertaining in mind. So many sweet memories of the year or better I lived in Alta Vista. I bought massive begonias and hung them on the balcony.
I also think the few trips I recall making to 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. 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 builidng 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 so it 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 maven up the street who parades her sexy giant poodles about town in her convertible. I must admit, they are all three adorable.
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 admitted to ourselves that our dreams weren’t dependent on a suburban ideal. We began what we thought was an isolated journey back to the urbanscape, only to discover it was a much more collective effort that actually amounted to a quiet rebellion.
I think 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. Thus, we weighed the challenges and risks of urban living against the realities of drugs (available everywhere); growing domestic violence (more a suburban than 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.