I know my urban neighborhood by heart. I walk it, I bicycle it.
I am outdoors. I feel the cold air. I trudge, I skim the pavement, I am bored or happy according to the weather. It was brown and windy today and I sat on the steps of the Greek Orthodox church to adjust my hood. I took off my gloves to pull my hood up over my hat, but it fell down too far over my face and made me claustrophobic, so I took it off again.
Tree-lined streets, Arts-and-Crafts bungalows, the meridians with flowers in the spring time (brown dirt or snow this time of year), the neighborhood grocery store, the good indie coffee houses, the hardware store, the health food store, and the library.
There have been a lot of changes in the neighborhood in the last 10 years.
The clock speeds up and the years pass rapidly some time after the age of 40. Businesses come and go. The bagel store has closed (weren’t you eating cinnamon bagel bites just yesterday?), a gym has closed, a used bookstore, a record store, an Italian restaurant, and an entire strip mall is empty except for the odd tattoo parlor and DUI counseling office.
Another gym has opened, a small indie bookstore, a cheese store, a candy store, a consignment shop, and a bar.
The neighborhood public library has been renovated. It is now a spacious building with a tower, fireplace, and comfortable chairs. The old overcrowded library had buzzing fluourescent lights, few chairs, and not enough books. Now there is room for books and people, too. Old books have been brought out of storage and reshelved. I am delighted to find such great browsing.
Then there’s nature. Nature is the biggest consideration on walks, don’t you think? There are some beautiful gardens in our neighborhood. You can’t tell much this time of year, but that scraggy-looking brown wispy twiggy area is a wild flower garden in summer. See those sycamore trees? They’ve grown tall in just a few years. They’re not my favorite, but a very smart buy for a family in need of shade in a treeless yard. See over there? In a few months the crab apple trees will be blooming. You will walk down the street and the branches of flowers will brush you.
But nature has suffered in the last decade. Many trees have fallen in devastating storms. A neighbor’s tree split and crashed on to our roof, the bulk of it falling across the driveway. A huge branch from our tree fell across another neighbor’s driveway, extending from the garage in the back yard to the street. You see the wounded trees, the trees cut down, branches dragged to a truck, then the stumps, then the wood chips, then the holes where the trees were.
Future generations, beware of the weather.
The weather has changed in the Midwest. My hometown is a good gauge of climate change. The Catholic church where my mother went her whole life, St. Patrick’s, was destroyed by a tornado in 2006. Jackson Pollock’s painting, “Mural,” had to be moved when the University of Iowa Art Museum was evacuated during the flood of 2008. It went first to the Figge in Davenport, then to the Des Moines Art Center, and is now being restored at the Getty Museum in L.A.
The Neal Smith trail on the Des Moines River was closed for a few years due to flooding in 2010. It had to be repaved and the levees rebuilt. Bridges on the Chichaqua Valley Trail were wiped out and were not rebuilt until last summer.
If I think about all the changes in my lifetime, it is too much to take in. When too many businesses close, we worry that people will pack up and move to the suburbs. When bookstores move to the internet, we are not able to browse and miss items we might have seen in physical stores. When cities lose population and stores, we lose part of our culture.
We are also seeing a civilization in flux as the climate changes and storms and floods wreck our environment. There will be rock concert benefits in New York, but not for the rest of us.
And so we cope by walking around the neighborhood. Know your neighborhood, know the changes.