In response to yesterday’s Daily Prompt, We Built This City, I am going to write more about Columbia, Missouri.
I love living in the center of Missouri, within a few hours’ drive from the other big cities and notable historic locations in the state. The state itself is nearly in the center of the country, which is also convenient. Technically, the exact geographic center of the contiguous United States is Lebanon, Kansas, but that too is just a half-day’s drive from here. This town is constantly growing, and its population ebbs and flows between summertime and the rest of the year, as the University of Missouri and other colleges bring many out-of-town students here. However, I think more of them may be staying over the summer now that student housing is going up all over the town, and they are not like the college-owned dormitories that close for the summer, these are rented or leased residences. One of my fears is that college educations are seeming to get less vital to have as they get more expensive–because it so hard to find a job in your chosen field after graduating–and that all of these new apartments will soon be quite empty. But right now that is certainly not a problem, as most are rented before they are even completed. The current population is over 115,000.
The town and the university campus have grown tremendously in the 25 years since I first came here as a student, with the population increasing by about 40,000 in that time. I didn’t make many forays into the town itself while I was in school, beyond the downtown area which was within walking distance, but I saw enough to know how much it has changed. The Mizzou layout has changed the most, I think, and if I stroll the walkways today that I used to take most often, through the east side of campus, I barely recognize it now. The buildings at the north end have changed very little, but in the middle of that stroll I find mostly new buildings, and at the southern end I find that even the dorm that I lived in is now gone, replaced by green space created for the University Hospital expansion. As much as that broke my heart, I will have to make a later post just about that!
What I love the most about this town is the events that bring others here from far away, keeping Columbia relevant and interesting. In college we heard the nickname for the town, Ho-Humbia, but you have to try pretty hard not to find something to enjoy. There are numerous art galleries, a plethora of parks, and many music venues. If you like sports, the colleges should keep you busy year-round, and even the three main high schools in town have some excellent rivalries and bring exciting match-ups to town. Mizzou recently joined the Southeastern Conference for sports, and SEC fans love to travel and follow their teams wherever they go, including Columbia. But it is the special events that I appreciate the most. I’ve already written much about one of them, the True/False Film Festival, which has developed a world-class reputation in just over a decade. But there is also the Roots ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ Barbecue Festival in the fall which is quite the musical experience, now taking up much of a huge park after relocating from downtown a few years ago. Mizzou and The Blue Note bring in many of the best popular musicians. Until last year, the county events center operated less than three miles from my house, and it hosted the Boone County Fair and many outdoor events. The voters closed it last fall, so I’m not sure where many of those events will relocate. But there continue to be places in Columbia that draw people here from out-of-town.
What I like the least about Columbia is its increasing crime. Every city has a crime problem, but ours is getting worse as more and more troublemakers come here from the St. Louis area, and to a lesser degree from Kansas City. I guess gang territory is running short in those metropolises, so they are coming here seeking new ground and new clients. There are also many business robberies, as the interstate runs through the center of town, very near to a lot of banks and convenience stores.
I suppose if I were Mayor I would tackle the crime problem by encouraging neighborhood togetherness the way the community as a whole seems to come together at times, so we would all be watching out for each other more and not just ourselves. I would also dedicate as much as possible to a strong police force and presence, although it would have to be fair, as well. I would want them to more clearly be a part of the community, and not the dictators of it. In the past, I believe the mayor has put far too much into parks, and not enough into emergency responders. As Columbia explodes in size, the police and fire departments have struggled to keep up, but the parks have always continued to improve and expand. We are an outdoorsy and physically active community, which is great, but we have enough parks already!
Currently, the city council is considering adopting a flag design for Columbia, as it currently does not have a city flag. It has a city logo, but not a flag. So it hosted a flag design competition, and I submitted one idea:
The white columns represent those at the front of the Mizzou campus, and the purple columns are the ones at the site of the old county courthouse, located at the other end of Eighth Street from the MU columns. While these pillars may be considered a stale landmark of this city, the inescapable fact is that they represent the prominence of education here, and its position as county seat, since its beginnings. The colors stand for two other community values: Green, the environment, and purple, the arts. The horizontal break creates a line symbolizing the important east-west connection across the state for which Columbia can be seen as a halfway point. White serves only to balance the other colors.
My design was not chosen as one of the finalists, as I feared it would not because the colors are too bold and unique for a typical flag, but I am happy with four of the five finalists, as they were on my short list of favorites, as well. The only changes I might have made to my own design would be to soften the colors a little, and/or to add “Columbia” in text someplace. I had not wanted to do that because I feel a flag should identify a place without actually spelling its name. But I think some text would have improved my design.
I don’t know how much longer I will stay here, but I hope it will be a long time. If, however, we do end up moving someplace else, I see myself returning to Columbia when I can, maybe for a True/False, maybe for a stroll down memory lane at MU, and definitely to walk in the rose garden where Jen and I were married. Columbia will always be a part of me.