Lincoln: Cooler than You Think
The soaring monument is hailed a wonder.
The state itself…not so much.
Nebraska has an image problem. Perhaps not within its borders, but certainly outside of them. One of the so-called “flyover states,” along with Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas, Nebraska is apparently too vast and too beige to merit naming, much less touchdown.
For example, this overheard on NPR — a game show host to a contestant who lives in Lincoln: “So, do you enjoy the Nebraska lifestyle?” Before the fellow has a chance to respond, Mr. Host chuckles, “Heh, heh. You don’t often hear ‘lifestyle’ and ‘Nebraska’ in the same sentence.”
“Actually,” chirps the contestant, “I like living in Nebraska.”
So do a lot of us.
YOU’RE MOVING WHERE?!?
When we told people we were relocating to the Heartland, reactions ranged from shock to outright hand-wringing. One family member in New England pulled Steven aside. “Are you going to be okay there?” she whispered, clutching his arm. A colleague in Santa Fe blinked at Elizabeth’s announcement. “Nebraska? Where the hell is that? What the hell will you do there?!”
Nebraska, for the record, marks the geographic center of the contiguous United States. It is largely rural. Many of the state’s counties are “frontier,” meaning there are more cows than humans. Over half of the population of 1.8 million (humans) resides in Lincoln and Omaha, cities only 60 miles apart. Nebraska produces vast quantities of corn and soy. And beef. (We are vegetarians and get along fine.)
The sky here is blue and wide. Summers sway with katydid song. Willa Cather was born and raised here. She fled to New York as soon as she could. Once in the City, she wrote about Nebraska.
That’s how it goes.
Lincoln, Elizabeth’s hometown and now our home, is an undiscovered jewel. A prairie pearl. And cooler than you might think. Consider:
• The CDC named Lincoln the healthiest city in the U.S. in 2007, based on surveys of over 180 municipalities. Some town in West Virginia came in last.
• Nebraska Wesleyan University, a private liberal arts college in Lincoln with just 2,000 students, ranks among America’s Best Colleges, according to Forbes Magazine.
• Lincoln ranks #5 among 2010’s Best Places for Business and Careers. Forbes again. Star City beats out perennial favorite Denver, nearly ten times larger, and Nebraska’s top gun, Omaha, with a metro population tripling Lincoln’s 250,000. The mag cites the sane cost of doing business in Lincoln, low unemployment (3.9% as of August 2010; usually it’s around 2%), an educated workforce (92% graduate high school; 35% college), and the affordable cost of living (median home price: $133,000).
• Forbes clearly loves us: Lincoln ranks the ninth-most livable city in the U.S. in 2010, tied with Bridgeport, Connecticut. Omaha comes in sixth. Just up the road. Live in one city and you get both.
• Entrepreneur taps Lincoln as one of the top 10 best places to do business and have a life (August 2010). Not top 10 small or second tier, mind you, top 10 overall. The mag cites Lincoln’s $260 million sports arena commitment and the University of Nebraska’s new Innovation Campus among the city’s draws.
• America’s Promise Alliance honors the city as one of 100 Best communities for children in 2008. Parents routinely wax rhapsodic over Lincoln’s family friendliness. Lincoln Public Schools is renowned for education innovation coupled with traditional methods that work.
• Award-winning University of Nebraska Press ranks among the ten largest university presses in the U.S. The LA Times hails its translation program (primarily French, German, and Spanish writers) among the three best of American publishers. UN Press is recognized as a national leader in Native American studies.
• Lincoln is growing—about 11.5% from 2000 to 2010. “The Heartland will rise again,” predicts Smithsonian Magazine (July/Aug 2010). “Small Midwestern cities…have experienced higher than average population and job growth over the past decade. These communities, once depopulating, now boast complex economies based on energy, technology, and agriculture. …The region will be pivotal to the century’s most important environmental challenge: the shift to renewable fuels.”
• Lincoln is a center of diversity. Say again? Yes, the former White Bread capital is now a multicultural beacon. In the 1990s the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement tapped Lincoln as a preferred community for refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Burma…. The list grows. Star City is now one of the top-20 American destinations for new arrivals from other countries. Ethnic grocery stores and eateries dot the city. Nearly 50 languages are spoken in Lincoln Public Schools. The world has arrived on the doorstep of one of America’s most homogenous communities. The encounter transforms us all.
CLEAN WATER, GOOD FOLKS
But wait, there’s more:
• Lincoln’s air quality consistently tops the index.
• Clear, clean water comes right out of the tap.
• The City maintains over a hundred parks, including an enormous wilderness area. There are dozens of safe playgrounds, miles of biking trails.
• It rains here; gardens grow. Winter brings snow. Strangers stop to push when your car gets stuck. They smile and wave as you fishtail away.
• Drivers rarely honk, even if you’re being a jerk. Turn signal use is revered. Fellow motorists roll down their window in traffic to tell you your brake light is out. They slow down to let you into their lane. I’m not making this up—they slow down.
• People return your phone calls. That afternoon. Even if they don’t know you.
• Astonishingly often, folks do what they say they’re going to do.
• Giving and community service are commonplace. Nebraska boasts the second-highest rate of volunteerism in the U.S. (That’s a figure of speech. Nebraskans don’t boast.)
• Oh, and the fabled Midwestern work ethic is real. Live somewhere else for 25 years and compare.
We are proud to live in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Not boasting, just proud.)