When You're in Des Moines, You're at Home
A few months ago, I read an online piece in the San Francisco Chronicle penned by a long time Bay Area resident, David Prowler. The op-ed was about Greater Des Moines (DSM), which David had never visited but had been intrigued by for the last few years. David was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved to California in the 1970s. The Midwest, he would later tell me, was mostly unfamiliar to him.
Most of David’s perceptions of DSM were positive. But I felt let down at the last paragraph of David’s op-ed: while he dreamt of DSM, he never wanted to actually visit Iowa’s capital city. He didn’t want the city he imagined falling short in reality.
And that kind of … irked me.
I’m peculiarly protective of DSM. I remember the years when Downtown DSM would be utterly absent of any signs of life at the stroke of 5 p.m. I remember being a kid during the Flood of ‘93 and watching a city already down on its economic luck find a resilient strength to rally and move forward. Finally, I remember when the region took matters into its own hands and has, over time, sculpted a new skyline as it entered a new century. Many of the city’s historic neighborhoods have been restored to former glory and found new life with the next generation of Des Moinesians. I have witnessed the town I grew up in — a stagnant landscape of office buildings and suburbs of shopping malls — flourish into a thriving yet modest metropolis where I am proud to raise my three children.
Perhaps it was that protectiveness which compelled me to reach out to David and tell him — in my ‘Iowa Nice’ way — to not talk about it and be about it: why dream of Des Moines when you can experience it for yourself? I encouraged a visit and said his perceptions may not be far from reality.
David responded and thanked me for my email, saying perhaps someday his mind would change about visiting. In mid-September, I received another email from David. “You’ve convinced us,” it read.
DSM on Display
I was excited. I mean, how often do you have the opportunity to show off your city to people who live in a coastal metropolis which claims tourism as one of its largest private-sector industries? And how do you show off a city that is always evolving and has consistently been evolving for the last several years?
Then weeks ago, my spouse and I had the privilege of welcoming our new friends — David, Rich Hillis, director of the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, and Steve Vettel, a land-use attorney — to DSM to explore the Midwest’s best kept secret. Over dinner at the ever-reliable Aposto in Sherman Hill, our group exchanged stories about West Coast living and Midwest living and DSM’s past and present.
I’m self-aware that DSM isn’t exactly a tourism hot spot. Parents aren’t ditching plans to take their kids to DSM for spring break in lieu of Disney World (although, if you’re my child, you do spend your spring breaks in DSM; more specifically, you spend spring break at the Iowa State Capitol with your mother). But the accessibility and affordability of our city gives visitors the ability to take DSM at a leisurely pace, which is how our Californian guests embraced their time here. Unlike in touristy cities, not every moment in DSM has to be jampacked to feel as though as one is making the most of their time. A summer Saturday can include the Downtown Farmer’s Market, an Iowa Cubs baseball game, or a concert at one of the several local venues; a winter weekend can entail a walk around the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, a movie at the I-Max at the Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater, and holiday shopping around the Historic East Village.
I was thrilled David and his friends gave DSM a chance. People expect to make new friends when they visit in a new city; rarely, though, does one make friends because of a city. When you’re in Des Moines, you’re at home!
My next mission: incentivizing a pair of friends from the greater Austin, Texas area to visit DSM. If I can win over the Californians, I can win over the Texans.
Named as the #3 Best Place to Live in the U.S. and #7 Best City for Living the American Dream, Greater Des Moines (DSM) is the fastest growing metro in the Midwest. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.