Someone said "SOMA" to describe to me the location of Island Park in Fargo and I couldn't stop laughing when I found out what it meant. In fact, I'm still laughing.
SOMA means "South of Main Avenue" for people too lazy to say all four words consecutively. I imagine the alphabet soup was brewed in some cauldron by three witches to describe a business and arts district as something intrinsically different than the hell gate that has become downtown Fargo.
Everyone will tell you that good things have happened to downtown and I think they're wrong on the whole, which I acknowledge is not a popular opinion, especially with people who never truly experienced downtown when it was beautiful, before it was beautified.
Downtown Fargo used to be a bookstore so messy you could get lost for days and bums playing guitars on the street and kids cruisin' the same Broadway where their parents met and street art in impossible places and cheap burgers from the corner drugstore. I was always fearful of losing this when the so-called Renaissance began, figuring "Renaissance" a fancy word for replacing the poor and the youth and the artists who have meaningful talent with savages who wear ties everywhere and people who vote Republican.
God I miss it all. I miss running on the rooftops of the buildings screaming poems into the middle of the f---ing night. You can't do that anymore, of course, because all the building owners lopped off the tops of their fire escapes or worse, installed rooftop patios, but also because the gentrifiers would complain about the noise instead of singing along with us.
We used to wander around until the sun came up, then lay in whatever patch of grass we could find until the record store opened. Then we'd listen to music in our crappy but incredibly cheap apartments, drinking the macro-est of beers, thinking about how terrifying our futures would be as we got older.
Now what is this place? An overpriced local skunk beer and dry hamburger. Bars too cute by half. Condos the size of your old dorm room for the price of an Ivy education (or two)....Downtown baby, that awful slogan. Who with a soul wouldn't want to dissociate from all that? It's the kind of phrase creepy old men say to women half their age. Nobody wants to be a part of that, except for creepy old men who'll die alone and be buried in unmarked graves if there's truly a God in this world.
The idea of rebranding isn't worth spreading, but the disease easily transmits over hot air. Enter the tawdry and vain invaders, the tech bros who conflate snake-oil salesmanship with art, who sell fast-food ideals, who try to overwhelm art with an agenda — making life less interesting with the blue glow of screens — who pompously decide to take a 125-year-old neighborhood like Roosevelt and call it the damnedest thing: "Cathedral District." It has exactly one seat of a Catholic bishop, technically downtown, and plenty of non-Catholic residents who presumably weren't a part of the upstart rebranding committee's backyard BBQ.
We're all just renters in these neighborhoods. These places existed before us and will exist long after us. For outsiders to stake a flag in our ground and claim it as their own isn't merely exclusionary, inauthentic and self-absorbed, it's destructive to the community that they've attempted to abduct.
We don't live apart from each other. We're bound to one another for better or worse. Mostly worse, it seems. In an increasingly connected world — their idea of "connected," not mine — we seem to be worse at building strong, diverse communities. Probably because we've delegated work to the wrong people: the marketers, the public relations, the hangers-on. These people want to bin like with like and same with same; they have zero interest in common ground unless they can dig it up and fill it with empty storefronts.
If our city can be described by a simplistic, misguided, north-of-normal hashtag that falls flat, then we've failed as a community to build a city worth a damn. Community is a feeling deep in our bones, not lines on a map. It's generations of tending to the land with care and pride. It's shoveling our neighbor's driveways. It's planting lilacs for people to appreciate for 80 springs. It's showing up at graduation parties and garage sales and sending flowers and prayers when times are rough.
That's the DNA that defines us. If that manifests as inadequacy and cargo-culting slogans far-away land developers have imposed on their residents, then we should silence it immediately. The underlying argument of rebranding assumes the old is worse than the new. We should stand up and take some pride in our little frozen patch of prairie in the face of these usurpers with their insecurities. New isn't always better. In this case, it's comically worse.
Part of me wishes this city would flood out if it wouldn't also destroy the library. Wipe the community clean of this awful infestation. Instead, we'll remove the mosquito landings, because someone who can't cope with what comes at dusk says they're pests.
But! There are remnants of that old downtown left, of course. There's great art to be found if you look behind the right doors. You'll hear kids full of boundless energy shouting into the night if you listen long enough. These people don't need a damned brand, certainly not one as cruel as SOMA or Cathedral. They need to be left alone, to grow up and have kids and get miserable professional jobs in cold office buildings and think back on these places and have aches so painful they'll miss it so much that they love whatever is left of it; so that they'll cherish it and protect it for their own children, who'll scale the buildings and howl back into the darkness and mostly do nothing but exist in their neighborhood's streets.
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