I spent the weekend in Chicago. Well, just 24 hours actually. It was glorious. I went to celebrate my husband's birthday, and I told myself I would find out the management system for Millenium Park. As it turns out, I celebrated his birthday, but I didn't find out how the park was managed. But I think I might have figured out why people love that city, though it's hard to describe. I want to call it "culture," as everyone does, but is that really it? What does culture mean in this case? And whatever the name is for it, how do we get more of it in Indy?
Not long after being on the highway, we were suddenly immersed in the traffic that is Chicago. People laid on their horns as if three honks will make cars move faster than one. Hundreds of people walking the streets; the city was just alive. At a stoplight on Randolph I leaned back in my seat, relieved that we made it there safely. I glanced up and there it was; a row of pink and purple flowers that lined the entire wall of an railroad overpass. My mood was changed instantly -- I was refreshed. It distracted me from everything else I was thinking about. It was like someone surprised me with a beautiful bouquet. "This is why people love Chicago," I thought. There seems to be so much thought put into the art and design everywhere you look. Something so simple disrupted my day in the most positive way. Was that culture?
Growing up, I thought culture was someone's ethnic background. I would hear terms like "our culture believes ..." and "in their culture, they have traditions like ..." I thought it was a set of beliefs. I thought it was a way of life and it had to do with where you were from. Now, in my professional life, we use culture to describe lots of things. It's tossed around in the same mixing bowl as art. It's used to describe an atmosphere people want for their city. It can mean food, religion or a gallery space. The dictionary describes it as "the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively." That doesn't really help.
When I looked up and saw the flowers greeting me and the beautiful old buildings that were preserved so well or the festivals around every corner, I felt like I was in a city that was full of culture and heritage. And to me, that meant, I'm in a city that is colorful and deep. Culture is that added layer -- it's intangible. It's organic, and when you experience it, you can't deny it. It's that level underneath the surface that makes people want to stay. It's a mixture of lots of things and the more diverse, the better. It's a celebration; it's positive energy.
We have culture in Indy. However, I'm looking out of my office window at this very moment and what I see is a parking lot. I see Toyota trucks and silver cars and a red minivan lined along in perfect rows. Culture isn't smacking me in the face right now. It doesn't permeate the streets and environment. I understand why people in Indy celebrate what we have now and crave so much more. It's because we want that deeper layer. We want that spirit of spontaneity and wonder. We want to try new things and really feel like an international city. We want history and belonging. We want culture. And now that I understand that it's layers and layers of history and attention to detail and an openness to people and beautiful design and grassroots events and parks and music in the streets -- I can appreciate what we have and encourage so much more of it. Culture is everything I thought it was, and more.