Thinking about Midwestern Cities

One of the fascinating things about this trip has been seeing two other major Midwestern cities in short succession, both of which are very different than my own. To understand this, though, you need to understand that in the time I’ve been in Minnesota I’ve learned that Minneapolis is “my city,” and St. Paul is not, in ways that are difficult to explain. Everyone calls them the Twin Cities, but it’s almost as if they are simply two very different cities separated by a river. It’s not one city with a river running through it. *

I’ve learned that Minneapolis is small, and almost baby young. If you take the whole metro it’s not, but my part? It’s easily walkable from one end to the other, and most of the “prominent” buildings were built in the last 50-60 years. I know there were buildings there before, but with few exceptions, they’re no longer there. (Again, St. Paul has developed differently.)

And my gods, it’s white. More truthfully, I think it’s ruthlessly segregated. In Cincinnati, Over the Rhine – one of, if not the poorest areas – butts up right into downtown. One “wrong turn” and there you are. But also, at the zoo, at the museum, at pools and parks, you can see Black people and other POC enjoying themselves with their families. It’s the same in Chicago. We’re staying at what seems like a very nice hotel, and there are a number of POC staying here, hanging out in the lobby, eating at all the nearby restaurants and just going about their lives. It’s nice. It’s good to see, and brings home how little I see that in Minneapolis. I never even realized how easily it is for me to stay in nearly all-white areas without even realizing it. (I see you, St. Paul people.)

Chicago, and Cincinnati to a lesser extent, are cities full of sounds and smells. There’s always cars honking, whistles blowing, people shouting and hurrying. I can walk through a handful of blocks and come across a dozen different smells. Either Minneapolis has a significantly different sensory landscape, or I’ve completely acclimated to it to the point it no longer registers.

And good lord does Minneapolis have a million coffee shops. I don’t know if the area we’re in in Chicago counts as downtown, but I just had to walk four blocks to get coffee, and I was a little put out about that. In Cincinnati, I had to go about as far. Becca walks eight blocks to work and passes 7-9 coffee shops depending on which route she takes. On the other hand, I think Dairy Queen has pushed any other chain ice cream place completely out of Minneapolis.

I’ve enjoyed both Chicago and Cincinnati, so these aren’t complaints, just observances. Though I did realize just recently that I didn’t see a single pigeon in Cincinnati, which feels oddly disquieting.

(St. Paul people, don’t get me wrong – I like St. Paul just fine. But by chance, I adopted Minneapolis when I moved here, and that’s the way I’ve learned to love it.)