I am a Des Moines native and downtown resident. I wanted to share what makes me proud to call this neighborhood my home.
I am a millennial, fresh out of college. I have spent the last three years in New York City, the year before that in Paris and the four years before that in Virginia, Spain and Nicaragua. Despite this itinerant lifestyle, I was not at all reticent about returning to Des Moines, the city of my birth.
During the past eight years, I have visited my hometown at sporadic intervals of only a couple months or several weeks at a time — just long enough for Des Moines to feel like home, but not quite long enough to intimately know the city, the way one does after developing a routine, a jogging route or a daily commute. This irregular pattern of living has allowed me to feel the full force of the changes our city has undergone in recent years.
For instance, I remember when Western Gateway Park was just a mound of dirt and how the dirt seemed to have been instantaneously transformed, upon my return, into one of the most impressive sculpture gardens in the United States. Indeed, it seems that every time I come back to Des Moines I am greeted by a new event, a new restaurant or a new piece of public art that stimulates my intellect, senses and emotions. Public installations like Jun Kaneko’s Dangos and Expansion (the adjacent light mural) along the Principal Riverwalk have already begun to transform the physical and cultural landscape of downtown, making these neighborhoods inviting, walkable places and aesthetically connecting places like the Historic East Village to the heart of downtown.
Then there are the periodic festivals like 80/35, which showcase local and (inter)national talent and are as much a testament to the vibrancy of the Des Moines cultural scene as is the recent proliferation of public works of art. These festivals excite me in the same way that a weekend outing in Court Avenue excites me. It is in these places that the dichotomy of the urban and the rural coalesces into the unique synthesis that epitomizes Des Moines as “heartland” of the United States. Walking through both the farmers market or the bar scene, I am treated to the mélange of overalls and skinny jeans, punks and jocks, young professionals and immigrant workers. The diversity of downtown Des Moines rivals, I think, some of America’s largest cultural centers. Being in downtown allows us to see this America-as-melting-pot, as the country of unprecedented diversity and opportunity, where living is affordable and luxurious.
I’m proud to call downtown Des Moines as my home.