Sunday, January 25, 2015

Random racing ruminations: Urban living, gentrification, and great Omaha locations

This weekend ended my second week of training for the Lincoln Half-Marthon. I'm making incremental progress in my average pace and I'm slowly working up to longer distances. I know I must be patient with this entire training process. I'm impatient to see the results all my hard work will bring.

Sunday brought a great three mile interval run. I'm still struggling to control my breathing while increasing my stamina. Saturday was the longest run in my training schedule so far, a mere five miles. However, it's been over a year since I've run that distance so I will consider it a success. The paved trail near our home is a short one, far from five miles, and it doesn't connect to any other trails. Usually the beginning or ending portions of my runs require me to wind through surrounding neighborhoods to accomplish distances of longer than three miles. I tentatively charted out my Saturday's five-mile trek on Google Maps, and then I hit the streets of cool, older, Omaha neighborhoods. My route took me down some residential streets I previously have not explored. I took in my surroundings: houses of varying architectural styles, sizes, and character; some streets contained large, grand, well-maintained homes; some streets humble, unassuming, and in need of maintenance or repair; all had grand mature trees, indicating a past, a history, a story. I take comfort in these types of neighborhoods, hoping that their stories continue, live on, and flourish. Peoples' choices will determine the fates of neighborhoods like these and that fact is of great interest and concern to me. It is a topic I think of often, and it is the topic where my thoughts lingered while running this weekend.

When we moved to Omaha we consciously decided to live in the middle part of the city. We settled on an old historic neighborhood that, obviously, contains older homes. Our home is unique and has identifiable character. It will also require constant upkeep and renovation, entailing extra financial investment and sacrifice from us. Living where we do is an ongoing resolution that central/mid-town Omaha is not a bad place. Because it definitely is not a bad place. Good people live here. Are there challenges? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Of course not. To deny that there is much work to be done in parts of Omaha would be ignoring the depressing stories that speak truth to certain situations of poverty, crime, and neglected forgotten buildings and neighborhoods. I fear those outlier stories create some blindness in city-dwellers who then choose to be outliers of the outer sections of the city. Instead I want to highlight some amazing work and renovation taking place by government and private entities who are revitalizing the core of Omaha:

Aksarban Village
One obvious shining light is Aksarban Village. We appreciate this bright spot in central Omaha. Offices are located there, including Michelle's. Restaurants, movies, shopping, and great events like farmers markets and live music means there is always something to do. It is where we spent New Years Eve. This Saturday we bought a birthday gift at Learning HQ and then Lily enjoyed swinging for the first time on the swing set at Stinson Park.

Blackstone District
I'm incredibly excited for the up-and-coming Blackstone District. While I haven't explored any of these places yet, this area is turning into a nice place for local, small-businesses. An extreme amount of restoration and renovation has taken place in a very short time.

Historic downtown Benson is slowly being revitalized with small businesses and breweries joining the landscape. This area of town is continuing to create buzz about what is new and exciting in an older part of town.

Urban Village Development
Urban Village Development is amazing! This is a collective of locally owned and managed apartments. They care about the buildings, neighborhoods, and tenants of their properties. They take historic buildings or older buildings with charm and update and renovate them with modern furnishings. Here is their vision, mission, and core values, according to their website:
Vision: To facilitate the transformation of Midtown Omaha into one of the areas strongest real estate submarkets.
Mission: Revitalize urban communities by rebuilding the fabric of the neighborhoods.
Core Values:
        Be a good neighbor.
        Do not own anything that we would not live in ourselves.
        Take chaos to calm.
        Treat the property like you live in it.
        Trust and Respect.  Do what you say you are going to do.
        Never forget the difficulties of the little guy who does not have many resources.
As opposed to the slum lords and landlords of Omaha who purchase cheap real-estate to make quick rental investment income at the expense of lower-income tenants (which perpetuates crime and poverty), Urban Village Development is the exact opposite. They are making a significant difference in the core of the city.

Midtown Crossing
Midtown Crossing is an up-scale area of shopping and living in a central part of Omaha. It has created excitement that is slowly spreading to renewed upkeep in the surrounding, once depressed neighborhoods. Here you can find condos, dining, movies, businesses, and live outdoor music and events during the warmer months of the year. 

Other Smaller Urban Renewal Projects
In addition to larger retail and living developments, smaller projects are taking place throughout Omaha. Some of these are just certain building renovations, while others are blocks at a time, or individual homeowners updating houses. To me, these are the projects that are truly exciting because they are ordinary Omahans making a difference to better an entire city. Landmark Group real estate purchases older abandoned and sometimes historic buildings and renovates them into appealing livable spaces. Finally there are great stories of individuals like an Omaha couple who renovated an old home in the Florance neighborhood and another Omaha couple who worked to update an old and historic home in the Josylyn Castle neighborhood.

Just like running and training for a half-marathon, the results of progress can be slow and sometimes painful. The complexities of gentrification most certainly are at play in the improvements I mention  taking place in Omaha. NPR produced a fascinating project exploring all the issues associated with gentrification in urban renewal projects. I urge anyone reading this blog to spend some time checking out NPR's Marketplace project titled York & Fig: At the Intersection of Change. The setbacks, challenges, and struggles taking place in the Highland Park neighborhood in L.A. at the corner of York and Fig are valuable for everyone to understand.

There are definitely different preferences for suburban versus urban living and I must acknowledge here that those preferences are valid and acceptable. But I hope for a return to older parts of Omaha by more people, those who have a passion and dedication for maintaining, renewing, and strengthening places that might have ill-perceived or misunderstood reputations.

While I wait to see these great changes continue to take place in Omaha, I look forward to another week of running and training. Charlie, who is too old to run with me any longer, looks intently out the window at the neighborhood, waiting for my return, so he can welcome me back home.

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