When my daughter and I moved to Lowertown seven years ago, we were deeply moved by the amazing sense of community we found here. What many people who come here for park concerts, bar crawls and weddings don’t realize is that , before it became the “hippest” place to move to in the Twin Cities, it was a small, close knit community of artists, and people who appreciated their work. Before Barrio and the Bull Dog beckoned young suburbanites and peddle pubs to our streets, buildings may have been empty, but our neighborhood was full of people who knew each other and lived together very well.
Just as little as 10 years ago Lowertown was a neighborhood that had been ignored by it’s own city government for so long that weeds had taken over a good share of Mears Park, and citizens were taking it upon themselves to prune trees and pick up garbage along the streets. When I moved here, the city had acquiesed to providing garbage pick up service in the park once a week, but those of us who cared purchased our own plants and maintained the gardens and grass ourselves.
Despite the neglect, our community thrived. Artists came to live here and put on amazing cultural events. People who believed in the potential of community built an independent coffee house, called the Black Dog, and provided a wonderful venue for musicians. And those of us who admired the creativity came here to be next to it all. That’s why we didn’t mind pulling our own weeds, picking up our own garbage and being ignored by the rest of the world. Most of my friends and coworkers had no idea what I was talking about when I told them that I lived in Lowertown. (Lower..what?) But those of us who lived here knew we had the best kept secret on earth.
As John and I prepare to leave behind a neighborhood we invested ourselves in, made friends in and even fell in love in (our first date was
at Loto, now known as Faces on Mears Park), I like to look back and remember that we were a part of a community here. As the walls of the Gillette building come down, and a youthful bar patron screams at his friends beneath my bedroom window tonight, I want to remember how safe, welcoming and harmonious it felt to live here once.
Neighborhoods and cities aren’t that different than children. They either grow or they die. But the growth may not always be something you can live with. So we move on with the hope that we recapture something of that safe, nurturing community in our next neighborhood.