Last week, I happened to stumble upon Stephen Bloom’s December 9th opinion piece on The Atlantic website about rural Iowa, which has garnered much attention, mostly negative, including from his own colleagues and the University of Iowa President. It was so fantastically stereotypical, out of touch and just plain wrong that I couldn’t resist reading it over again and then out loud to Keegan, marveling over the idea that someone might pull over while I’m walking my lab to ask me if I hunt him. For the record, that’s never happened to me once in three years, and I walk him a lot. (I’ve been to two weddings here, and neither of them involved a jello mold.) I can’t get over how a journalism professor at a major university who has chosen (not been forced) to live here for over twenty years could so irresponsibly misrepresent Iowa and everyone who lives here.
I won’t lie: I moved here with misgivings. I spent the first twenty-eight years of my life on either coast, and over five years of my adult life in major cities (San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland). I love skiing and swimming in the ocean, two activities not to be found here in Iowa. I enjoy visiting New York and Philadelphia and the energy, excitement, culture and diversity that can be found in a big city – not to mention the food or the shopping. But, after living in Iowa for just over three years, I have to say that I really love it here too. My top reasons Iowa is a great place to live:
1. It’s beautiful. Prairies and rolling hills are beautiful in a way completely different to the Appalachian mountains, the Oregon coastline, the San Francisco Bay, the deserts of Phoenix or anywhere else I’ve ever lived. The variety of color that can be found in the landscape, especially in Fall, is simply breathtaking.
2. It’s clean. The city is pristine as any I’ve ever visited, and so is everywhere else for that matter. We live in Windsor Heights, and the pride of ownership is evident in every home. People here care about where they live.
3. It’s fun. Since moving here, I’ve seen many of my favorite bands in concert, including O.A.R., Wilco, Gomez, Guster, Ingrid Michaelson, Sister Hazel, Joe Purdy, and Barenaked Ladies. Des Moines has great restaurants like Django (my personal favorite), Baru 66, Centro, La Mie, Sbrocco, Sakari Sushi and many more. The East Village is filled with unique shops like Domestica, Porch Light Antiques, Found Things, Seed, Eden, Ephemera, Aimee, AllSpice (and more), where I can find unique gifts, home decor, stationery, and clothing without having to brave the mall, though Jordan Creek is just as nice as any big city mall. This summer we attended the International Food Festival where we ate Turkish, Ecuadorian and Ukrainian. On my list of things to do next are the Bacon Festival, the Iowa State Fair, 80-35, Iowa Cubs games, and Bucs hockey games (we can walk to the stadium), and the Des Moines Art Festival.
4. It’s accessible. After living in cities like San Francisco and Phoenix, the traffic here in Des Moines is a walk in the park. I like to laugh at the Sunday morning real estate show when the host describes literally every home as twenty minutes from anywhere you want to go, but it’s really true! And, for us, most destinations are within 10-15 minutes.
5. It’s easy to be healthy. Our house is a quarter mile from the entrance to a system of bike trails that crosses the entire metro area. We also had access to the same trails when we lived twenty miles south in rural Cumming, Iowa. I walk our dogs along this trail almost daily, and it’s always beautiful and clean. We live less than a mile from the YMCA, and there are tons of options for fitness like Cross Fit, Kosama and Farrell’s, plus your typical gyms like Gold’s, Planet Fitness and AnyTime Fitness. You can also participate in a number of events like the Hy-vee Triathlon, the Des Moines Marathon and RAGBRAI, plus numerous smaller races. In November 2010, Trader Joe’s opened in West Des Moines, and a Whole Foods is scheduled to open later this year, not to mention locally owned Campbell’s Nutrition. During the warmer months, locally grown produce and meats are available through a plethora of CSAs and farmers’ markets including the Downtown Farmer’s Market, which is incredible.
Statue of a Girl – Ames, Iowa
6. It’s creative. If you have read this blog for a little while, you know that I make jewelry and participate in Market Day, which is a monthly art + craft show that runs from May to November. In addition to selling at Market Day, I have met amazing artists and crafters and purchased unique, handmade artwork, pillows, baby clothes, stuffed animals, hand dyed yarn, scarves, soaps, and stationary that I’ve given away (reluctantly) and also kept for myself. If you want to learn more about painting, ceramics, jewelry making, photography, knitting or just about any other craft or creative pursuit, there is some place here to do it. Check out Des Moines Community Education and the Des Moines Art Center for a wide variety, class lists as Fishlips and Studio Fuzzishu for jewelry making, Ephemera for knitting, just to name a few of the many options.
7. It’s close to nature. This past October, we drove a quick and easy two hours to Lake Keosauqua, where we rented a small cabin with a view of the water, hiked with our dogs in the state park and visited several of the small Villages of Van Buren (which were neither scuzzy nor infested with meth addicts, Mr. Bloom). There are countless places where you can hike and camp and fish all over the state; so many that we had a difficult time choosing where to vacation.
Orchard at Sunset – Cumming, Iowa
8. It’s nice. Iowa is nice. People here are nice. When I first moved here from Northeastern Pennsylvania, I went grocery shopping at Hy-vee. The checker asked me how my day was, if I had any plans for the weekend and if I needed help out to my car. I went home in amazement and told Keegan how surprised I was that the checker actually talked to me, pleasantly. He said, “Yeah, people here are nice.” It took me a while to get used to how nice and genuine Iowans really are, but now it’s my favorite part of living here. If you haven’t seen the cheeky (NSFW, use headphones) yet serious video by Scott Siepker and Paul Benedict, it’s the perfect rebuttal to Stephen Bloom and the rest of the media who would stereotype Iowa without taking a moment to step outside of their own haze of condescension and self-importance to actually experience what a wonderful place this is.