Living a Local Life


I was already writing this post when this election gave it a new slant. I’d started writing about how much richer my life is when I frequent local businesses and services than when I go elsewhere for those things, like the suburbs or online. It makes me feel more grounded in my community, helps invest my dollars into the local economy, and gives me more time for the things I love. After the election, I feel these things even stronger. And I feel that local action is one thing we can still hold on to, even in the hard times to come.

Bringing things in

Lives are made up of many choreographed puzzle pieces. When one thing changes, the whole fabric becomes a little different. Sometimes those shifts are small, like getting a new job pretty near to your old job. But sometimes they’re large, like moving way closer to work so you save an hour a day that you used to spend commuting. While you probably can’t get a new job, get new friends, and get a new place to live, you really don’t need to. You just need to notice the places that you spend most of your time and focus on finding the rest of what you need near there.

A few years ago, my good friend Dan lived in a swanky light rail adjacent apartment in Bloomington. He’d moved there with a girlfriend, and even after they broke up, he planned on staying. One day we were talking on the phone, I was in my bedroom in Whittier and he was at the coffee shop formerly known as Bull Run on 34th and Lyndale. He mentioned he was planning on renewing his lease. And I said some simple words that have thoroughly changed the fabric of his life: “You should move to uptown.”

He was complacent. He liked his apartment. His lease was coming up and he was just going to roll with it. He works in Edina and spent all of his free time in my neighborhood: reading at coffee shops, going to events, visiting friends. He’d never considered moving. Now he’s lived in Whittier for several years and loves it. But it almost didn’t happen because he was stuck.

There are little changes you can make that will improve your life and your neighborhood. Instead of going to the dentist in the suburbs, find one nearby that you can walk or bike to. Instead of ordering batteries from Amazon, pick them up at your local hardware store while walking your dog. Instead of driving to the suburbs to visit shopping outlets, frequent your local thrift or consignment store.

When you make these changes, you make living life a little easier on yourself. You don’t have to navigate traffic and unfamiliar streets every time you have to run an errand. You get the small pleasure of walking or biking in your neighborhood and possibly seeing an acquaintance en route. You start to recognize the baristas at your favorite coffee shop, and they recognize you. It makes the connections around you feel closer. It makes living in even a large city feel cozy and comfortable.

Moving forward

Choosing to be more rooted in your community can be good for your own sanity and for building connections. Now it has become more than that. Since the election, I’ve been inspired by the words of our Mayor Betsy Hodges and my boss, Council Member Lisa Bender. To conclude an event we held on Thursday, Lisa said that Minneapolis will continue to fight to protect all residents. Our elected leaders will do what they can to keep us safe. It was a glimmer of hope on a dark day.

I don’t just see locality as a good way to make your life more walk and bike friendly. I see it as the only way that we’ll be able to make progress in the next couple of years. We will now be entering into an era with a unified GOP federal government, and a GOP-controlled state legislature. I’m afraid of big things, like disruption of international agreements and the systemic persecution of people of color, immigrants, and women. And I’m afraid of smaller things, like a complete dearth of federal and state funding for transit projects. It’s easy to become paralyzed by that fear and horror. So I’m working to focus on the things I can impact now, with my time, my voice, my energy, my money.

It is now up to us to do the work to bring about the world we want to live in. It is up to us to start protests, to attend protests. It’s up to us to caucus for our preferred City Council candidates in April. It’s up to us to put our hands to work volunteering for organizations that we value. It’s up to us to step in when we see hate in action and to call out bigotry wherever we encounter it. It’s up to us to organize, to have conversations, to stay engaged. All this work can happen locally, and indeed, it must happen locally. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we are powerless. There are things that need to get done here, where we live. And if we harness this energy that many have felt since the election, we can put it to good work in the places where we’re already planted.