Sunday, June 17, 2007

Big City or Small Town?

Is Minneapolis a big city or a small town? Is it a cosmopolitan, bustling, urban adventure or is it a more relaxed, steady, Midwestern large town? A conversation on MNSpeak got me thinking about what degree of urban-ness is present in this city. At issue is the proposed crackdown on panhandling (read more on the above link if you want to learn all about it). The comments on this post reveal two general trends of thinking about how to respond to panhandlers:

(1) Ignore them. Don't make eye contact. Walk past. Don't be afraid to be firm with strangers. This is a big city. There's poverty. Realize it, and move on.

(2) Give 'em some change once in awhile. Try to be decent. Recognize that there are poor people in this city we share and maybe we should try to help them out.

Ok, so I'm probably over-simplifying the variety of views on MNSpeak. But I do think there's are two distinct worldviews underlying--or should I say informing?--the discussion of how to respond to panhandling. If Minneapolis is truly a "Big City", then we should step outside with our Big City game faces on. When you walk around New York City, you don't make eye contact with strangers, or smile at them, or say hello. You walk on by. If you don't, there are plenty of people who make their living off of unsuspecting visitors.

In a smaller town, the rules are totally different. Strangers aren't the (potential) enemy. It's ok to smile and say hello. You're encouraged to do so, in fact.

Obviously, it's ridiculous to suggest that Minneapolis is one way or the other entirely. Culture is a complex, dynamic thing, always changing. This city is, however, moving towards becoming a more significant regional (and national) player, and with that change comes certain transformations of urban culture.

Or am I just reading too much into it all?


Blogger Ed Kohler said...

That's an interesting way to look at it. I don't think many people go into game face mode, except perhaps people who work downtown and grow hardened by daily harassment. I think avoidance is the #1 tactic used by our passive aggressive residents. Stay in the 'burbs or in Longfellow & Linden Hills where you'll rarely, if ever, run into a panhandler.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Minneapolis, like many other mid-western (i.e. non-coastal) cities, is a large urban island surrounded by farmland, forests, plains and the remaining small towns. Much of its population has been and continues to be (although much less so) in-migration from the more rural hinderlands. So you have your "small town" feel in the "big city". Minneapolis is becoming more cosmopolitan with its recent immigrants from other parts of the world and an influx of non-natives when the local economy was booming. Nonetheless Minneapolis still seems quite insular to outsiders.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Zach K. said...

You went a completely different way than I expected with this post (after reading the post's title).

The question of whether Minneapolis is a Big City or not is a great one on its own (which you should try and tackle!).

But putting it within the context of the panhandler issue brings on a bunch of interesting complications.

Mainly, I'm sure there are some cultural traditions on charity which impact (inspire us, guilt us, etc...) ones' reaction to a panhandler. These came from...?

But you bring a very interesting perspective. Is city bigness determined by the number of panhandlers?

Is urban necessarily associated with poverty?

Or is the subject most relevant when you have large enough differences in income/social status in a city that it makes it worthwhile to panhandle (which in turn could be a definition of urban - the diversity of classes)?

8:56 PM  

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