When I moved from my college in Upland, Indiana, to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, people thought I would have a hard time.
“You’re going from the middle of nowhere to one of the biggest cities in the world,” they said.
But honestly, the adjustment wasn’t all that bad.
Although the cultures are drastically different, the feeling of living in Upland and New York is surprisingly similar because both places put in you in a “survival mode” of sorts.
In the one-stoplight town of Upland, it’s like going away to summer camp. All you have is the people around you, and you’re all in it together.
In New York, you’re literally living on top of people, and almost everyone is a transplant, so you’re all in it together.
There’s a powerful sense of unity in both places, and oddly enough, that unity is the result of inconvenience. When you don’t have everything you need, it makes you feel connected to people around you in a way that you don’t always feel when you’re comfortable and satisfied.
You struggle together, and that struggle builds character.
In Fort Wayne, we talk about character a lot—about identity and who we are as a city or a region. We say it’s not the buildings; it’s the people that make this place great, and I think that’s very true.
But sometimes I wonder if we have enough space and discomfort here to build the character we want—the unmanufactured character that doesn’t come with a tagline, a marketing scheme or a picture-perfect image all the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the place-making and quality of life work that is being done, and as a marketing professional, I understand the importance of developing a good brand for the city.
But when I think about Fort Wayne compared to other places that I’ve lived, it isn’t the brand or the amenities or the conveniences that I miss—it’s the inconvenience of being needed and needing to rely on other people in return.
I get it in small doses here, when my neighbors ask to borrow something, or when we come together as a block to cheer on the Fort4Fitness runners once a year. I feel it in the new businesses opening up, or the late-night shows of local bands I want to support.
But that feeling of unity isn’t here on a day-in and day-out basis yet. We aren't so big that need to rely on public transportation, or so small that if a few of us go missing, everyone will notice.
We can mostly get by on our own here, in small circles of friends and families, and as someone who craves community, that’s so discomforting to me. I think that's what has always drawn me to downtown.
It comes from the uncomfortable, the inconvenient, and all of the other undesirable attributes that make us look at a place and wonder, “Why would anyone want to live there?”
When you ask people why they like living or working or just being downtown, they’ll usually say something about community spirit.
But in my experience, it’s a different type of spirit than the one you read about on downtown development brochures.
It’s not about everything we have, or everything we’re going to get; it’s about what we lack, and how that make us stronger somehow.
We talk about how downtown needs a grocery store, and how a few more parking spaces would be nice, and to be fair, these creature comforts would probably do a lot for our developing city.
But as we grow, as we brand things and decide who we want to be, I think it’s important to remember that connectedness doesn't come out of abundance and provision—having a comfortable life padded with everything we want. It comes from the common struggle, the mutual discomfort, the proverbial cups of sugar we need to borrow from our neighbor that force us to leave our house and depend on someone else.
As much as we want to fight it, as much as we want to sweep it under the tidy welcome mat of the city’s front door, maybe the things we struggle with are the things that give us character.
Personally, I am thankful for the inconvenience.
HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas. HereSay@ylni.org