Who gives?

I’m skipping an MDM post on a dedicated bike corridor to write this article because I think it’s more important.

Who gives a crap?

Maybe I’m bad at writing, maybe I’m bad at explaining it to people I run in to, maybe people just don’t feel the same way that I do.

Do you like your city? Do you like Mankato? What is it about the city that you like? What about Mankato?

A lot of the answers I hear are utilitarian, cold and calculated. When someone tells me they like Mankato it’s because of “low cost of living” or something like “close to the cities, but not in the cities.” Rarely do I hear because I love the valley and the charming houses.

Are we building a city that people actually give a crap about? Or are we making our cities to fulfill some need? Do our cities simply allow people to have jobs and get their two weeks of vacation every year? What about a city that inspires, that excites, that makes you want to give a rip about it?

Simply put, we’re not doing that here in Mankato. Do you drive down Madison Ave and feel a sense of civic pride? Do you stop and think that this is a place worth caring about? Would you go and pull weeds on the sidewalk because it would help make the place better? As I wrote in my other article we dump $1.3 million into our downtown and then sprawl like crazy on top of the hill, effectively undermining our investment and people’s reason to care.

This thought really came to a head when I read yet again about this 65-acre monstrosity of a school we’re building. School is a very formative time period in everyone’s lives. Schools are incubators for life-long friendships, for career paths and for hobbies. Apparently they’re not meant to be incubators for civic pride, however.

After this school is built are we going to stand back and have pride? Will we look at this school and think about the generations to come that will use this building and find fulfillment in it? Or will it be so “functional” that a children and parents alike will barely remember what it looks like outside of the drive through drop off zone.

Why do people visit Europe? It’s more to do than history. It’s being in a place, a place that feels like people care about. When you’re sitting in a square, you understand that people use this city, that people invest in it, that people take pride in that specific city because they can see that people before them have done the same.

We don’t do that in America, we have a throwaway culture, we hardly care about our places. We allow historic buildings to be torn down for parking lots, we destroy old houses to build highways, we think about ‘me’ first and the public realm second.

It shows.

Civic institutions were and still are often built to be center points of the community. They are supposed to be a testimony to the generation that built them and allow their architectural heritage to radiate in future generations. Look at the post office, look at the courthouse, places that no one would dream of tearing down. This school will praise one thing–King Car. With virtually no ability to walk there, it’s clear where Mankato’s school boards priorities are.

This school is no accomplishment for the city of Mankato, but rather a testimony to our ability to think bland, to think inside the box and to be followers, not leaders.

How can you expect the youth to care about your city when they never get to interact with it? When everything they see is viewed from inside a car and buildings solely exist to complete a task? When your new school is going to be surrounded by corn?

The question we need to ask is “who gives?” Certainly not the school board.

Image courtesy of Albumarium

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.