Day 311. Iowa City. Uncreative Name. Creative Place.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What is it about home? Michelle and I decided to stay an extra day and drive back today. If we had planned on staying until today it would have felt nice, but the fact that we made it an extra day made it feel amazing. If you want to surprise me with a present, give me something extra of something, that’s all I ask.

I went to the chiropractor in the morning. Crack. Good. Then, Michelle and I went and had lunch downtown, with my parents. Chew. Good. Have I mentioned how much I love Iowa City? I’m not sure I have. Growing up. Good.

This is something that people from college towns will understand, but maybe not everyone else. The general population tends to think that people come from either a big city, the suburbs, or a small town. I would argue that there is another category, college town. College towns have their own unique characteristics. They are all three of the other categories, and none of them at the same time.

Here are 10 characteristics of Iowa City (and probably other college towns) that make it unique.

1. Smart. Iowa City is smart. It is routinely in publications as one of the most educated towns in America. This is what you get with college towns, you get a disproportionate number of people with bachelors degrees, masters degrees, and PhDs. It only makes sense, especially if there is a big university that has a lot of graduate programs and research. Of the people I went to high school with, roughly 118% of them have their PhDs, besides me. In Iowa City the place you go to if you need a job in college for the summer isn’t a factory, it’s ACT, like the college testing. However, I worked there and was nearly bored to death.

2. Pedestrian friendly town. Iowa City  and the University of Iowa are pretty uniquely intertwined, there is not a regular town and the college campus, as there are other places. Downtown Iowa City is located next to campus, and the campus surrounds it on a couple of sides. This means that the students live near downtown, since they live near campus, which makes for a very pedestrian friendly area. This makes it bustling, because the word bustling doesn’t mean anything other than people walking around. I think this is why I developed such a love for getting around by means other than cars.

3. Thought and creativity are valued. They say that in Washington DC the commodity is power, in New York it’s money, and in LA it’s looks. I would argue that in Iowa City it’s thought. I like overhearing conversations in coffee shops, they are often well thought out with words I don’t really understand.

4. Culture. A college town tends to have access to cultural things that a town without a big college doesn’t have as much access to. Whether it be traveling Broadway shows, or symphonies, or ballet companies, or art museums, there tends to be more access than the normal town of it’s size. Along those lines is more racial diversity than an average town of the same size.

5. College Football. Iowa City has like 64,000 people, closer to 100,000 with the surrounding areas and students. Kinnick Stadium, Iowa’s football stadium averages about 75,000 for a home game, plus there are thousands more that just come for the tailgating. The town itself doubles in size on football Saturdays. It’s not like anything else. Everyone either goes to the game, watches it, or is aware that they’re not watching it. Cheering for the university sports gives people a commonality and a point of bonding that not everywhere has, I think it’s really cool.

6. A drinking problem. I’ve only said rosy things so far, but if Iowa City was your uncle, you would have put it in the car with your parents and driven it to rehab by now. A university gets a reputation as a party school and it’s hard to reverse. In college, it’s okay and encouraged by your friends to be a raging alcoholic, as long as you slow down after graduation. If your town has a lot of college students, then you’re town has a bit of a problem in that regard. The university and the city have made valiant attempts to curb it, but it’s difficult. I remember checking the police blotter in the paper to see how many people I knew from high school that were getting picked up for underage drinking, or whatever other insanely weird things Jack and Coke convinced them to do.

7. A feeling of being bigger than it is. I think this is due to all the cultural and big event sort of things that go on, but Iowa City is a city that feels a lot bigger than it is. I like that quality a lot. I say this because when I come home I am always reminded that it’s not that big, the speed limit is 25 in most places and some of the roads I used to think were big are two lane.

8. When you’re a adult, you find out that your childhood friend’s goofy dad was actually really important. You see, people aren’t getting really rich in a college town so there isn’t the big hint of money to clue you in to what the parents do. I had a friend growing up whose dad had Reebok pumps, and that’s all I knew him as, I come to find out later that he was one of the leading doctors at the University Hospital, who also had great ankle comfort and stability. Another friend’s dad is one of the world’s experts on Walt Whitman. Go figure.

9. The culture of Iowa City is generally liberal. I feel like big cities are often a hodge podge between liberal and conservative in terms of culture. I learned when I moved here that it has a conservative culture generally, and I learned that it’s not weird to be that way, I had just grown up where the general culture is liberal. I think you can tell what a town is by how comfortable you are to say what your political affiliation is. If you don’t feel comfortable, the general culture is different from you. Think about what you are and then think about the opposite, that is your town. If you wouldn’t think twice about saying your political affiliation, then the culture generally agrees with you.  Boom. Formula.

10. John’s Grocery.

So, yeah, I come from a place that is not a big city, or a suburb, or a small town. I can’t fit into any of those places snugly. It’s since I’ve been gone that I’ve realized that it was a unique place. When it’s all you’ve known, you don’t realize that as much. When you’re thinking of places, keep in mind that there is another category. When I meet someone from another college town, like Madison, WI, or Lawrence, KS, I immediately feel like I have a lot in common with them. I get excited and talk to them about it too much.

Iowa City, is all of those things I mentioned above, but mostly, it’s just home, that’s my favorite part.



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3 responses to “Day 311. Iowa City. Uncreative Name. Creative Place.

  1. Yo Jeff. I’m a friend of a friend (Browning is probably our closest connection) and I actually went through YL leader training with your sister way back in the day in another college town you mentioned in this fab post, Lawrence, KS. This is a pretty meaningless comment, except to say that I SO DIG college towns, IC included. I keep trying to convince the hubs (who is an Iowa grad) to move there. We try to go once a year, usually for a football game, and it’s always a good time.

  2. Steve Anderson

    I have heard that Iowa City/Coralville/North Liberty Corridor area is also the home of one of the leading Real Estate attorneys/Hawkeye Fans known to be living in the western hemisphere……That’s what I heard…..

  3. I totally identify with you about college towns. I live in the home of Purdue University, so we also have the same phenomenon of our population doubling during home games, and the feeling of being a big city without actually being a big city. We should meet up at a cafe where we can overhear random philosphical conversations and discuss the seasonal intelligence quotient…LOL! Thanks for sharing your insights that are (either known or unknown) shared by so many. 🙂

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