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It’s not often that I write here about a story I’ve written elsewhere. It’s also not often I write a story that alters one of my fundamental beliefs. And thus, I must share. Mostly because it’s reminded me how important it is, as a person and a writer, to view the world in all its dimensions, rather than categorize things and people as “good” or “bad.”

I was recently assigned a story about a city that has no traditional downtown, but is working to make its commercial area more walkable, urban and appealing to residents. As a development nerd, I’ve long believed downtowns are good and sprawl is bad. I’ve scorned cities that are just miles of big box stores and parking lots, believing they should receive no help from government, big ideas from planners or love from people. They are the bad places, and downtowns are the good. Southgate, by this definition, was one of the bad places.

sgBut Southgate is what it is. It can’t pretend to be a dense urban area, because it just isn’t. What is it supposed to do? Just admit defeat and die? Instead, the city tore town a vacant Montgomery Ward and is building an amphitheater and park in its place — still adjacent to the remaining shopping center. The city is unabashedly embracing its struggling mall, creating a walkable, urban space around it. Southgate is working with what it has to make an urban node in a suburban area, and that is impressive to me, someone who normally needs 100-year-old buildings and streetlight banners to even take notice of a place. Kudos, Southgate.

Open-mindedness is something we all like to believe we are, but rarely is this the case. We may be open to new people or foods, but when it comes to ideas, most adult people are pretty locked in. Liberal or conservative, spiritual or secular, patriarchal or feminist. These ideas are often so connected to our identities that we don’t even consider that they could be moved. They inform our beliefs of who the bad guys are and who are the saints. What justice looks like. What progress means. If we were to somehow change our perspectives on ideas like these, it might make us question everything we believe.

And maybe that’s a good exercise to do now and again.

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