Monday, October 26, 2009

Random thoughts about where I live

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.   It's taken me awhile, but I love it here. Everything that I need or want in my daily life can be found in Minneapolis, and best of all, I don't need to drive to get to any of it.

Driving, and the ability to choose not to do it, is a big deal to me. Like most people of my generation, I have been a licensed driver since I was 16. I easily accepted that in order to get to work and go out and visit friends and family, I needed to drive everywhere. I needed to pay a car payment, I needed to get insurance, and I needed to make sure I had gas money. I was used to the idea that my car could break down at any time and I'd need to come up with yet more money to fix it.

Jesse, my boyfriend (whom I live with), has a car, but I never replaced my 5th car when the transmission finally died. I didn't feel the need to: my job provides a deeply discounted MetroPass, which allows unlimited use of all public transportation, and deducts the $20 automatically from each paycheck. I don't even notice the deduction. Since I live in Minneapolis, work in Minneapolis, and my social life is in Minneapolis, I rarely drive anywhere. I use my MetroPass to get nearly everywhere and save driving for going to my mom's house, which is about 20 miles away in a northern suburb.

Just this summer, Jesse and I decided to get bikes. It only made sense, as everyone we knew commuted by bicycle regularly, and according to Wikipedia, Minneapolis has the 2nd largest population of bicycle commuters. Bike trails are all over and the city is, for the most part, impressively bike-friendly.

The other day, Jesse and I needed to go to St. Louis Park, a nearby suburb of Minneapolis. He asked me to drive because he was having knee problems. I drove approximately 3 blocks, and Jesse asked me to pull over and switch places with him. I guess driving is not like riding a bike; I do not know how to do it well at all anymore. I'm also paranoid behind the wheel, especially on freeways. It's gotten so bad that when we go to my mom's, Jesse drives (the majority of the commute is via freeway) and I cover my eyes with my hands.

Becoming a cyclist (or, trying to) has been a fun adventure. It's getting a bit too cold for my comfort now, so I'm back to the bus, but hopefully I'll get braver as I get more used to it. I still go out of my way to find a bike lane and freak out about traffic, but I'm slowly growing more comfortable with being on the road.

...Which brings me to my larger point. Since buying a bike, I have begun to absolutely loathe my neighborhood. There is an odd lack of awareness of bicycle laws and rights on this side of the river, and I don't know what to do about it. I am supposed to ride in the street, but no one in their cars believe this to be true, and as a result, they taunt me and swerve too close to me and honk. In addition to this, I cannot ride the 5 blocks to the grocery store by myself without being harassed and threatened. It's incredibly frustrating, and it makes me ride my bike less often than I would otherwise. Even leaving the neighborhood to get into more bike-friendly areas is panic-inducing. I realize that I am often more paranoid than most people, but the fear is there when it shouldn't be.

The neighborhood I live in now is fairly new to me. Jesse and I moved there in August with his younger brother, into the upper unit of a large duplex owned by a married couple that Jesse knows fairly well. Downstairs is a good friend of Jesse and his brother's. It's a great setup; basically we live in a miniature dorm, only it's actually giant and newly remodeled and spacious. We can hang out with our neighbor, everyone has privacy if they want it. The only problem is the neighborhood.

It's not a safe area for anyone. No one in the house is willing to walk around alone at night, and the only place that delivers to us is Pizza Hut, which is conveniently located two blocks away, but it's no one's favorite. Before we moved, our downstairs neighbor warned us to be careful when pulling into the driveway through the alley, because sometimes people would be loitering in the alley and they would mug you.

We haven't run into any problems parking in out own driveway, but the warning was surprising.

As a result of buying a bicycle and hating my neighborhood, I have found myself wanting to move to Uptown. This is a rather embarrassing thing to admit, though, as I always used to make fun of Uptown residents and the people who hang out there. I mean, it's always so fun and easy to make fun of self-righteous hipsters and self-described punks.

Prior to recent developments, Uptown was a place for young artists, musicians, and the like. It was defined as a trendy place to live for young hipsters and artists and had a slew of independent restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses. In the past few years, though, Uptown has changed dramatically. If you read the Wikipedia link provided, scroll down and read what they have to say about recent gentrification and the Uptown artists relocating to Northeast Minneapolis. Uptown is now where young, wealthy professions live. In other words, yuppies in condos.

Now, I am not necessarily complaining about the "yuppiness" (although I'm not going to try and tackle gentrification in this post). I am not really old enough (or cool enough, some might say) to truly remember Uptown fondly for what it used to be. I hung out in Uptown occasionally, to go to various bars or restaurants or live shows, but I was not immersed in the culture. Most of my going-out activities were located in Downtown Minneapolis. I spend more time in Uptown now than I did in years past because more of my friends and acquaintances live here these days. This means that the majority of the time, I am actually hanging out at people's houses or apartments, during the day, and not just bar-hopping. I have also made the journey into Uptown on my bike. Uptown is much, much more bike-friendly than my current neighborhood. In fact, it's preferred, as driving and parking in Uptown is unbelievably frustrating for a person like me, if not nearly impossible.

I also feel a bit of apprehension at admitting that the reason I want to move to Uptown is because of how much I dislike my current neighborhood. Where I live is a predominantly black neighborhood, and it's very easy to cross the line between wanting to feel safer in one's neighborhood to disliking the fact that people of color outnumber you, whether you mean to or not.

I asked Jesse the other day how he perceived what I was saying, and my intent, when I expressed my dislike for our current neighborhood. He understood that I did not want to leave because I don't like that the neighborhood is predominantly black, but because I'd rather be in an area that better accommodates my own lifestyle. That is, bike-friendly areas, locally-owned independent coffee shops and restaurants, local food co-ops and art fairs. I'd rather be in an area where I can ride my bike to the local grocery store and not get verbally harassed and threatened in the 5 blocks it takes to get there. Whether it was because I'm white, a woman, or just the next person to ride a bike down the middle of the street, I'm not sure, but no one should have to feel threatened simply running an errand in their neighborhood. It's frustrating, and it makes me feel resentful and afraid. I'm not used to not being able to walk around as I see fit, when I want. What's more frustrating is that I knew this before moving. I knew that I'd be sacrificing personal freedoms in order to live in a huge, remodeled house with awesome landlords and a familiar neighbor. And I thought I'd be fine with it.

I'm so afraid that I'll be judged as a racist for wanting to move from my predominantly black neighborhood into a predominantly white neighborhood that it took me a long time to even mention it to Jesse. I don't know why; I am clearly not moving because of the color of my neighbors' skin, but because of my distaste for not feeling like I can have as much freedom as I would like. But it's hard to discuss things like this with anyone when I read blogs like Feministe and Womanist Musings, where criticizing anything that can be associated with any oppressed group of people is almost always interpreted as an "-ist" action. I know my reasons for wanting to move aren't racist, and I shouldn't need validation, but I did, and I do. It's why I asked Jesse immediately if he thought I was racist. Now, Jesse's white and while he is a rational, reasonable and progressively-minded person, a person of color would obviously be a better judge of what is and is not racist against them, but it's not like I can just go up to the next person of color that I see and ask them if they think that my desire to move to Uptown is a racist one.

Well, I guess that ultimately, I know my own intentions better than anyone else. And it's certainly not like my moving would hurt anyone's feelings. And anyway, I'm here until August, at the very least, so... yeah. I'd better get used to it, I suppose.

In the meantime, biking, bussing, or even -- heaven forbid -- driving to Uptown and sitting at a coffee shop while I type at the internet isn't so bad. Incidentally, I think I've found a new favorite place to hang out.