As Lowertown Changes: The Space That Remains

As John and I take in the rapid changes occuring in Lowertown, it’s interesting to watch the neighborhood transform from a tranquil artist community to Minnesota’s answer to Chicago’s Wrigleyville.  Having attempted to pick up a pizza order from a Wrigleyville restaurant on game day last year, I can already see the demographic of Lowertown changing to resemble that neighborhood.  Twenty-something sport-interested office workers and students are beginning to outnumber the resident artists, older professionals and retirees who were once the predominant population.

Two women and a man dressed in Santa outfits drinking at a bar.

The new face of Lowertown: revelers at the Santacon pub crawl patronizing Barrio Tequila Bar.

My twenty-something daughter, a resident of Chicago for the past four years, added this observation to a recent conversation we shared on the subject, “The only people who want to live next to a stadium are the ones who want to watch sports, get drunk and walk home to pass out.”  Given the city’s plans to add more bars and food venues to Lowertown, and considering that there has been no consideration for where to route the additional traffic in and out of the stadium (which will be directly under the window of the apartment we’re vacating), it does appear to me that the neighborhood is preparing to welcome a younger, more boisterous resident.

This morning,  John, I, my twenty-something daughter and her twenty-something fiance (who are visiting this week from Chicago) attended meditation at Clouds in Water Zen Center in the building one block away from the new stadium site.  During the dharma talk, the center’s lead teacher, Judith Ragir, commented that part of the center’s annual meeting today would be discussing where the zen center would be moving to in the next year.  She explained, “Given the plans that the city has for a ballpark and bars, this neighborhood is no longer conducive to the contemplative goals of our zen center.  But I want to say that I think the change is positive for St. Paul.  It just simply no longer works for us.”

Judith went on to explain how our zen center had been founded, more than 15 years ago, in the space in which we were seated.  The zen center had been an abandoned “junk room” that had periodically housed the homeless.  She went on to talk about the hard work of volunteers that had transformed the space to the peaceful zendo we were now enjoying.

I felt very proud at that moment to be a part of a spiritual organization that could surrender their space, a place they had worked so hard

People engaged in meditation in Cloud in Water Zen Center.

The Northern Warehouse junk room that was transformed into a zen center: Clouds in Water will be moving out of Lowertown in the next year.

to create, so cheerfully to a purpose and environment that seems, in many ways, directly opposite to their purpose and reason for existence.  The center’s leadership and membership has chosen to take a positive stance on the realization that the neighborhood is no longer welcoming to us.  It also makes me wonder if the city leaders realize what they, and Lowertown, are losing when people and organizations like this, leave a neighborhood.  I hope that something positive will fill the space.


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