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Iowans in city condos? New territory


Lots of questions remain to be answered before downtown Des Moines can fill up with condominium dwellers, but most of them aren’t that complicated. Tax credits, construction codes, retail-residential mix — all of that will get sorted out. Here’s the truly tricky one:

Can Iowans adapt to condo life?

They are down-to-earth people in every way, and have always lived out their lives on farms or small towns or in a house on a tree-lined city street. Sure, they settle in an apartment complex when they first come to Des Moines, but that’s just until they can afford a three-bedroom ranch with a back yard big enough for grilling. They do not stretch out in their first 12-by-12-foot living room and think, “I believe I’ll spend the rest of my life right here with a view of this parking lot.”

Now we’re talking about something more serious. Now we’re talking about married couples and retirees committing to condos for the long term.

Can they live happily in a confined space with no trees nearby? No neighbors moving around outside to spy on? No deer in the lawn to brag/complain about? Will these valiant urban pioneers lose their grip on reality when forced to go day after soul-killing day without seeing a combine?

Stick the average adult Iowan in an apartment building in Chicago, drive back home, and the poor soul will already be there on your doorstep, asking what was the idea of that.

Sure, young Iowans can survive college dormitory life, but that’s because they’re at that idealistic, adventurous, high-energy age, and they’re surrounded by lots of other people who are also insane.

Condo life as an adult is different. Maybe you’ve reached the age when “let’s go drinking” sounds more like a threat than an invitation. There’s no place to chip a few golf balls. You can’t putter in the garden. The only free thing to do is go for a walk.

Man, those new walking paths are going to be packed.

But then, regular exercise is exactly what your body needs if you’re going to risk living in a condo. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the stresses of urban life can lead to increased blood pressure, a decrease in the body’s ability to defend itself against infections – and a decreased flow of blood to the brain.

Which explains a lot of the people you see in the Chicago Loop.

Still, it’s important to remember that downtown Des Moines is never going to be intensely urban. It won’t be much like Hong Kong, which crams 208,000 residents into each square mile (that’s 640 acres, to an Iowan). Wide-open spaces are always going to be just moments away.

Most important, most of your new neighbors will be fellow Iowans, a plucky bunch who will be determined to make the best of it.

If downtown Des Moines can reach that mystical moment when everybody in your neighborhood knows your business and family history and has a firm opinion about what you should do next – you know, the situation that made this state what it is today – maybe this experiment can work.

Jim Pollock, managing editor of the Business Record, can be reached by e-mail at jimpollock@bpcdm.com, or by phone at 288-3338, Ext. 241.

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