Neighborhood Nomad: Christy and Laurie of Linden Hills

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December 7, 2011, Washington, DC: The emails started rolling in from my aunt Christy the moment she heard about Neighborhood Nomad. She had so much to say about her Minneapolis neighborhood of Linden Hills. Christy described receiving soup from her neighbors on sick days and watching summertime movies projected at the rec center or on garage doors. She told me about nightly music at the bandshell. She wrote, “I could go on and on and on. Oh, I guess I did.”

On Halloween, Christy checked in again to inform me Zillow had ranked Minneapolis #11 in the country for trick or treating — and Linden Hills as #1 in Minneapolis. “I personally think our street was the epicenter, as it was closed off with a bonfire in the middle and all the adults gathered around it while all the kids ran wild,” she added.

Finally, she and her neighbor Laurie decided to sit down and record a conversation about this rare place they call home.

Read on for more from Christy and Laurie of Linden Hills.

Neighborhood: Linden Hills, Minneapolis

What it is about this place…
Laurie: It is the anti-virtual. I think that’s what I love. I love that when I drive in in the summer, usually there’s a glass of wine waiting for me or there’s a dinner plan that I have yet to hear about. And there’s somebody right there… The amount of reciprocity among our neighbors is remarkable to me. We watch one neighbor’s cat and bake bread for two others, and I haven’t shoveled my driveway in three years; it’s snow-blown for me. My neighbor rakes my leaves in the front yard for me. We watch their kids, they watch ours… We look out for each other and it’s very grounding. It’s very real. It’s very personal. It’s the anti-Facebook.

Christy: It’s real faces.

How often they hang out with their neighbors…
Laurie: Our neighborhood and our block in particular was built very much in the 1940s and 50s when everybody wanted their backyards. And these are lots with huge backyards; everybody had a deck in the backyard or a receiving space in the backyard, everybody but me on the block has dogs because they all have big, fenced-in backyards. That was the draw. In the last seven years, we have all built front patios.

Christy: Laurie lives a block south of me and if you drive down her block, there are 4-6 chairs in the front yard and picnic tables in the front yard and they cross all of the yards. It’s just glorious to see… I came down to wish Laurie a happy birthday and there were about 20-25 people sitting in their front yards pouring champagne, they’d ordered a pizza…

Laurie: And it had really nothing to do with my birthday. That’s a regular Tuesday night for us. It’s very much, ‘What’s in your fridge?’ ‘I have pasta.’ ‘I have chicken.’ ‘Okay, what are you bringing?’ Everyone just brings out their leftovers and piles them on the table and we eat, probably three nights a week.

Christy: There are a ton of people who work from home. When I leave the kids, when I go and run an errand, I say, ‘By the way, Andrew’s home two doors down.’ I’ll tell them who’s home in case something would happen. There’s always a place to go. So I like that. It feels very cozy just from a geographic standpoint.

Laurie: People love it, but they don’t just say they love it. They actually physically love it. You see people walking up and down the streets and you’re in the little shops and even if you don’t buy a lot, you buy a little. It’s not just about buying things; it’s about being active. It’s about going to the events. It’s about physically being present instead of just having a home in that area.

Where else they’ve lived…
Laurie: I was born in Massachusetts. I lived in a little town called Norton until I went to college; my parents lived there until about ten years ago. I loved and hated where I lived. It was very small, there was not a single amenity… But when I was little, I liked the fact that we lived on a dead end street, a series of dead end street, and between two years below my younger brother and two years older than me, there was, no exaggeration, maybe 40 kids.

When I came to Linden Hills, my claim to fame was that I had lived in six places in seven years. Very cool places: Alexandria, VA; Durham, NC; Austin, TX; Boston and neighborhoods in Minneapolis. I’ve had four places in Minneapolis in the last 17 years. And I’ve been in the house I’m in now for 12 of those.

Christy: I was born on Rantoul’s Air Force Base in Champaign, Ill. I lived there until I was 10 and had a similar experience to Laurie’s. There were a lot of kids and a lot of freedom and my parents didn’t see me most of the day in the summer. I’d go to one house and ask for a popsicle and go to the next house and ask for a popsicle… We moved to St. Louis when I was 10 and I did not like St. Louis so much. It felt conservative and very Catholic and very exclusionary and I came to dislike the city for those reasons… I never really felt at home there. I went to Columbia, Missouri for college — loved the huge college, loved being anyone I could be. Then I moved to Chicago and loved that. It was perfect for being single and young and having no car and having friends. I think I was moving at least once ayear from place to place in Chicago; there was always a good reason… One place we moved into was on Webster and Seminary, by the DePaul campus, above Tiny and Fred’s bar. We went down the first night and said to the guy, ‘Hi Fred.’ And he said, ‘I’m Tiny, that’s Fred.’ And then he said: “Sure is a shame what happened up there in that apartment.”

Why Linden Hills versus elsewhere in Minneapolis…
Christy: I moved to Uptown and didn’t really feel a sense of a neighborhood there. Did you?

Laurie: No, I didn’t either. For instance, I didn’t know that Will, who is exactly the same age as my daughter, lived around the corner. And there’s a couple other kids I know who lived right there and I had no idea.

Christy: There were fences and gardeners rather than people gardening themselves.

Laurie: Or a lot of more transient people in or out of all of the apartments. No, I never really felt it there. I loved the amenities. I loved walking to Sebastian Joe’s. I loved walking to all the little restaurants on Hennepin. I liked physically the location and it seemed, in a lot of ways, perfect. You’re close to downtown, close to the museums, I used to walk up to the Walker on Thursdays when it was free with Madeleine. There’s a lake within spitting distance and there’s the supermarket… I felt amenified but not like I belonged to a neighborhood. It never actually occurred to us to look for a house there.

How its location plays a part in the neighborhood’s identity…
Laurie: Linden Hills in Minneapolis is at the very southwest corner of the city. Right on the other side of a not-so-major road is Edina, which is a completely different city.

Christy: I think statistically that zip code is the most affluent in the state.

Laurie: People who live in Linden Hills, I think to a large extent, have chosen it not just because of its location, but philosophically. Because you could very easily live eight blocks west, ironically pay less in taxes, and have all of your tax money go you and yours… Yet people still are making the choice to spend their tax dollars here in the city. I think the philosophy of that does define a lot of who chooses to live here because the houses here are an awful lot like the houses right over there… People chose to live here because it’s an amazing neighborhood but it’s also part of Minneapolis.

Christy: I haven’t been all over this country, but I’ve been to a lot of cities. And it seems as if there’s the inner city, dense apartments, and there’s the suburbs with the houses far apart where you don’t speak to your neighbors. Chicago had a really great neighborhood feel, but I don’t know how many cities have that. But this is a really great neighborhood. It’s affordable. And then to have what’s at our fingertips…

Laurie: I think it’s a very “B” city thing. There are more pockets in those cities that are like this. We had a great neighborhood in Austin too, that was off the beaten path but still in the city, and in Durham, one that was right off the campus – beautiful, incredible tree-lined streets, the cutest little houses you’ve ever seen in your whole life. Not in the downtown, very similar to here, 2-3 miles out, but still within proper city limits from the perspective of a tax structure and a government structure. In bigger cities, once you get to those places, you’re in the first ring suburbs.

Hot topics in the neighborhood…
Laurie: There’s a proposed development in Linden Hills that is actually, in a lot of ways, very necessary, to the little corner hub that is Linden Hills Central, the downtown.They lost the co-op, the supermarket there that we all loved, and it’s been empty. The littler businesses there have been suffering. And so that very vibrant corner has had a hard time for a year. There is a person who wants to build a five-story, mixed use development there, who is very actively courting the Starbucks, the Banana Republics, the bigger stores. A lot of the objection is that the neighborhood, philosophically, has tried so hard to keep the Starbucks out, and it’s very hard to give that much control to a privately owned development. But it all comes down to parking and there’s never been enough parking in Linden Hills. Zoning and the city and the property managers have always been able to say, ‘Can’t have that, we don’t have enough spots.’ With this structure comes two levels of underground parking, and it takes that off the table. People are really mad. It is a very vocal anti-development council.

It’s sad. I am very attached to this neighborhood. That political piece and the way that was done, it feels like there’s a chink in the armor in the community that is not about the democratic process as much as it is rabidly defending a vision. I appreciate that but I really don’t like the tone it’s taking.

Their favorite neighborhood events and traditions…
Laurie: The Linden Hills Festival, for which I’ve frittered away years of my life, has been going on for over 20 years and is the major fundraiser for the neighborhood. The festival takes place the same weekend in May every year and it is run completely by the volunteer neighborhood council and about 200 neighborhood residents who volunteer in two-hour shifts. They raise $10,000, $12,000, $14,000 profit every year.

Christy: As a child, you can have a free booth and you can sell whatever you want. There’s a bicycle parade. You decorate your bike, or trike in a lot of cases, and go around the block. The high school marching band marches through. There are pony rides…

Laurie: And the high school cross country and track team run all the games. It’s truly a community grassroots event.

Laurie: I love Reindeer days, which is the winter tradition the first weekend in December. There’s a horse-drawn carriage that goes through the neighborhood with a donation to the local food shelter. You hop on and get your ride around. There are carolers on street corners.

Christy: And the fact that we can get a tree and drag it home, that’s a nice thing. In the summer, we have a swing in front yard. It’s on a very old tree so it’s really a long, high swing. A lot of kids come and swing. And a sprinkler goes near the swing so you can swing through the sprinkler.

Laurie: It feels very comfortable.

Christy: And timeless.

Will you be in Linden Hills forever?
Laurie: I see myself moving back to Boston, because as much as I love here, I miss the smell of the ocean. Though I see myself moving back there, this place will be tough to match. My experience here will be a big part in what I look for there. I don’t want to be right in the middle of a city that doesn’t have a neighborhood feel.

Christy: I don’t really want to break a hip in old age on thick ice that stays for six months. But I haven’t figured out where we’ll go.

Laurie: I don’t want to be old in 110 degrees either.

Christy: And I don’t want to be old in a place like Phoenix where everything looks the same

Laurie: And where everybody else is old! Where it makes it a habit to be old. No, I don’t want that either.

What’s special about the physical space…
Laurie: It’s just beautiful and quaint with a beautiful little village… and the library and a beautiful little park that isn’t big and fancy, but it’s very nice and serviceable. Linden Hills is nestled between two beautiful lakes. I love that every single night at the bandshell, there’s something.

Christy: There’s a separate walking path and a bike path and it goes one way. So if you’re walking or biking, you need to go on the right path and you need to go the right way. That cracked me up coming from Chicago, like, ‘These people are nuts. Have they nothing better to think about?’ And now I appreciate it. They’re really used.

Laurie: Everything we need is here. We’ve got the toy store, the book store, we have the bread shop, the little coffee shop…

Christy: The children’s book store…

Laurie: Yes, the children’s book store! Complete with cats and rats and roosters and tarantulas…

Christy: There’s a chicken walking around the bookstore. It’s nausiatingly charming. The bread store! They grind the wheat in the basement and they give free samples.

Laurie: And a little hardward store with the popcorn popper in the front where the kids can just go in and get their popcorn.

Christy: Free popcorn! There’s a little restaurant here now called Tilia, another thing I love. It has a really cool bar and has really cool beers, but it also has little lunch boxes, so small children get a little lunch box full of crayons and toys and games. You walk in there and there are 60 year olds and there are two year olds and there’s everybody in between…

Laurie:…Urban hipsters and retirees.

Christy: I guess that’s another thing I love about this neighborhood. It’s about the people. Again, like Laurie said, it’s not about the houses… It’s real. There are neighborhoods that are like this now; they have the front porches and they have the alleys in the back and they have the new urbanism and they’re great and I love that. But this is the real deal.

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