Friday, May 9, 2008

More on Why I Like Columbia, Missouri

I just started this blog two months ago and didn’t know what to expect from it. Recent developments have been gratifying in the “social networking” category because of the unexpected dialogue that has emerged, and because of readers I never expected. Thanks to all who have left comments and emails.

Living in Misery (I like to call him LIM for short – he calls himself comoprozac) posted his top ten responses to my March 24 blog entry. I thought I’d bring them to general attention and respond, so here goes.

1. You forgot to mention that Columbia is really white. I like a little diversity in my cities.

No argument there. Columbia has a sizeable African-American population, but the geographic, economic, and cultural segregation are disheartening. But we do have a mosque, and a significant Muslim population who are mostly first- and second-generation immigrants from the Middle East and Pakistan. As a professor I see a fair amount of diversity on campus, both among the students and the faculty. Not as much as when I was at the University of California, but some anyway. We also have a lot of Asian students. Plus Columbia has a fairly visible gay and lesbian community, which is not something you can take for granted either.

2. Knowing everyone in a small town is not that great. Trust me.

Like I said, it’s not a small town.

3. Columbus, OH was ranked higher in where to educate your children. I didn't take the time to check the other lists.

Well it is a lot bigger. I’m not saying there aren’t more options in a larger city, I’m just saying that for what it is – a small city in the heart of a “red” state – Columbia’s got a lot more options than one might expect.

4. I do not consider anyone who likes this place to be "uncultured". I just disagree with them. Am I not allowed to do that?

It’s a free country. And I wasn’t just talking about you when I said that. Mostly that attitude comes from transplanted East- or West-Coasters. Now that I know you’re from Columbus, Ohio, I know you can’t be as much of a snob as you let on.

5. Grass-roots peace movement? The people who stand by the post office every Saturday?

Yes, and they also stand on the corner of Broadway and Providence EVERY Wednesday afternoon, and they have done for the past five years, which to my mind shows incredible dedication. When was the last time you protested for peace? (For me it was before my son was born.)

(Tip for how to keep your kid from ever being drafted: As he’s growing up, make sure he goes to peace rallies and protests; take photos so there’s evidence to back up any potential claims to “conscientious objector” status. I’M NEVER SENDING MY KID OFF TO WAR!)

And don’t be so cynical about the efforts people here make for social change and for making this city and this world a better place. That’s why your blog is offensive, it seems to belittle all those people and what they’ve done.

6. "It hasn’t been coopted by corporations and chain stores..." I know you added that downtown bit, but come on. Wal-Mart owns this town, literally.

I don’t shop at Walmart, and I used to wear a button stating that. However, an employee at the post office once asked me about it (I think her response was something like, “but where DO you shop?” as if there were no conceivable alternative), and I was overcome with an incredible sense of middle-class elitism and guilt over my insensitivity to the financial realities of working people. I’m not defending Wal-Mart, but there ARE alternatives for those who can afford them (and who are conscientious).

7. The farmers market is good.

Yes, and the farmers are nice.

8. Santa Monica sounds nice.

Unsurpassed. But it does have its problems, including ever-escalating traffic congestion and the wholesale conversion of affordable housing to condos affordable only to the rich. This will be the subject of my third book. (Mind you, I haven’t written the first book yet, but I do have plans.) As an architectural historian, I’m interested in issues of urban development, and have often reflected on the pervasive tendency among cities and towns like Santa Monica towards gentrification and exclusivity. Lots of places I love have been ruined by that trend (including Woodstock, New York, a place near and dear to my heart). On the opposite extreme are cities like Flint, Michigan, as documented by Michael Moore in Roger & Me (1989), that disintegrate from middle-class to lower- and working-class because they’ve lost many of the features and amenities that people need in order to maintain a middle-class lifestyle (like jobs, for instance). I wondered aloud (in the presence of my friend Brad) if there’s any alternative? Do cities and towns have to develop in one of these two directions? Is change necessarily that volatile and irreversible? It was Brad (and not me, the so-called Columbia booster) who pointed out that Columbia does do a really good job of maintaining a certain middle-class lifestyle that is not always preserved elsewhere.

9. Many of those best city lists were written last century. I don't trust anything Forbes has to say.

I don’t blame you. But what's wrong with the last century, anyway?

10. 100 miles is a little ridiculous to have to drive just to board a plane, don't you think?

Yes, but I’ve been spoiled. Just think, you could live in London and have to drive for 90 minutes to get to the airport even though it’s located in the same city! (Traffic and all.) Ditto New York.

More things to like about Columbia:

Two words: historic preservation.

A, they got rid of the arcades, finally; bravo!! B, the Helzburg Building. It used to be the hideously unattractive "Strollway Center" with a concrete, windowless facade from the 1970s; thank god they restored this building to its original beauty. C, the Missouri Theater is getting a similar makeover. D, the new Ragtag Complex breathes new life into an old disused building. E, Similar efforts are planned for the up-and-coming gallery (and possibly theater) district in the Benton-Stevens neighborhood.


fabulous said...

On no you didn't!

It is on!

comoprozac said...

I was just going to read this post and not comment, but since you use terms like "snob" and "offensive" to describe me and/or my blog, I have no choice but to respond.

1. A diverse campus? I believe Mizzou has one of the lowest percentage of African-American faculty among major state institutions. Plus, certain departments still are not addressing their lack of Hispanic representation. Out of all the students at MU, only about 16% are minority or international. The gay community is rather invisible. We were here for several weeks before we saw any signs of a LGBT community. The only gay bars in town are nowhere near the supposedly progressive downtown. If there is no argument, there is no argument.

2. Yes, it may not be a small town, but it does have that small town feel of everyone knowing everyone's business. I believe you eluded to this fact in a previous post.

3. The list took into account city/town size. This is why several smaller locales were ranked ahead of Columbus. Size is not an excuse.

4. I'm not sure where this "snob" thing comes from. I have never insulted you on the blogosphere or Facebook. Why take it there? Of course, I agree that those from the coast do lump everything in the middle into one cultural category.

5. What effect have the post office and Providence protests had on policy or public opinion? I've protested war, the president, etc. These demonstrations are not unique to COMO. And I'm not sure they're very effective either.

If anything, my blog supports their cause. I have posted many times about my distaste for our "administration" and my support for the only candidate who stood up against the war. So, I am offended at your accusation that my blog has done anything to negate said peace movement, local or otherwise.

6. Don't pull that holier-than-thou crap about being able to afford not to shop at Wal-Mart. Yes I realize I can afford to choose. You don't have any idea where I'm coming from on this. Don't assume you know me.

7. Non-issue.

8. COMO preserves its middle-class lifestyle b/c there are so many universities, hospitals, and something called "white people".

I just want to point out that you would prefer to live in either Santa Monica or Woodstock. So, you too are settling for COMO. You don't have to hate, but you don't have to blindly love it either.

9. Last century was eight years ago. Are there not more recent lists not created by magazines for rich white men to cite?

10. But if you lived in London or NYC, you wouldn't want to fly anywhere. I drove 10-15 minutes to the airport while living in Columbus. I'd be fine with anything under an hour to be honest.

How you like them apples?

I think I'm done with this. Don't get so uptight over my blog's title. It's a pun, a joke.

See you at dinner!

Elizabeth Hornbeck said...

Ooops, I guess I've offended you. I'm very sorry. You have a lot of serious complaints about Columbia, but I think the post I was originally responding to said something to the effect that you didn't like Columbia because there was no place you could go that made you feel like you were in Seattle, or that there weren't enough coffee shops, or some such factor that made you "miserable."

I never denied that I was "settling" for Columbia, but I am in a profession - by choice - that doesn't allow one much control over where one gets to live. I accept that as a fact of life.

So does this mean I'm off your "Friends" list?