If you live downtown …

There were several reasons, when we decided to buy, we chose the house we have now. Price, of course, is always a big consideration. Perhaps a larger bonus at that time for me — owner of an ancient, rear-wheel drive Monte Carlo and unaccustomed to Iowa winters — was that the place was walking distance to the downtown office where I worked.

Obviously the prospect of slipping on the ice and breaking a hip was much less a concern two decades ago.

What we didn’t fully realize, but probably should have, is that our walking-distance-to-downtown locale is a prime traffic area. Foot traffic, skateboard traffic, bicycle traffic and, of course, automobile traffic.

For years we’ve dealt with a lack of parking when activities are happening in downtown. Streets have been closed to allow for community races and festivals. On cold winter days and evenings during the holiday season, the city’s ever-present and quite tinny Christmas carols played over loud speakers, drowned out only by headphones or by cranking up the volume on the television.

This reminder to appreciate and enjoy living in a downtown neighborhood was created by columnist Lynda Waddington and hangs in her foyer.
This reminder to appreciate and enjoy living in a downtown neighborhood was created by columnist Lynda Waddington and hangs in her foyer.

My flower beds have too often been trampled by excited little feet or, worse yet, turned into public bathrooms by passer-by pets. On one extremely ill-fated night, an unfortunate teen introduced himself to distilled spirits shortly before introducing my tiger lilies to the contents of his stomach.

Having lived through all of this and other nuisance issues, I can definitely sympathize with the residents of Park@201 in Iowa City who recently called law enforcement on the Tuesday night drum circle on the Pedestrian Mall. It’s difficult not to hop around, wagging your property deed under the noses of those who disrupt your plans ­— even when such plans involve little more than a catnap beside an open window.

And, if I’m completely honest, there have been times when we’ve too phoned law enforcement for help in quieting things down or when a visitor parked illegally. Outside of the very few drunken public displays, however, I can’t lay claim to much pride regarding our actions.

The park down the street was there when we purchased the property. The school, although renovated, still rests on the same city block. The fact that a public library and restaurants were steps away was a bonus when we toured the neighborhood.

We signed up for this. And, dear residents of Park@201 and other downtown property renters and owners, so did you.

If having a intoxicated teen drop by once a decade to fertilize the flower garden is the price I have to pay for being able to host a backyard barbecue while a live band I’m not paying for plays just down the street, so be it. If listening to a drum circle once a week is the price for your downtown views, so be it.

Embrace the neighborhood and try to understand that an active public space is the sign of a vibrant and diverse community. If nothing else, tack news clippings on the refrigerator that document how tourism impacts the local economy and property values. I created, printed, framed and hanged a reminder in my foyer to “bloom where you are planted.”

This is not to say, however, that you stick your head in the sand and refuse to give voice to your concerns regarding your neighborhood.

You should show up at city council meetings or, better yet, planning and zoning commission meetings. Introduce yourself to those officials and let them know that as a resident of the area, you have a vested interest in future development.

Likewise, introduce yourself to folks at the parks department, convention and visitor’s bureau and chamber of commerce. Offer to serve on activity committees that will impact your neighborhood, or at least position yourself as a sounding board for such events.

Instead of relying on local law enforcement, make a point of in-person visits to the events or groups that you might otherwise dismiss as a nuisance. You’ll be surprised at how your attitude toward them can morph into something positive.

As a bonus, if you follow my advice, you’ll meet incredible people and be in the best position possible to address situations before they spin out-of-control.

As a last resort, plan your own vacations or weekend getaways to coincide with the public activities that cause you the most stress.

Let the drummers keep the beat, dear downtown dwellers. Turn the other ear as anti-whatever demonstrators shake their signs and chant. Practice yoga a few times a week to maintain your flexibility. Call me for my well-used list of the best wine and liquor stores in the tri-state area, or just head down to the Pedestrian Mall where there’s no lack of adult beverages.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 13, 2014.