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Hey! The Line is a Year Old Today!

The Line is exactly one year old today, and because May 25, 2010 and May 25, 2011 both fall on Wednesdays, we get to celebrate on our publication day.
Editing The Line has been an exhilarating experience in more ways than one. As a monthly-magazine guy, I have found a weekly schedule invigorating, to say the least. I've learned a lot about the new world of online journalism, and I've been overwhelmed by the energy, talent, and sheer smarts of the news editors and the photographer with whom I've been privileged to work.
I've also learned so much about the Twin Cities that I feel I'm seeing the place with new eyes.
An Iowan by birth, I went to college in Massachusetts and grad school in the Bay Area, then worked in the magazine business in Manhattan; but during most of that time I was remembering fondly a couple of years spent here in the 1970s. I was remembering a city that was homey in the Midwestern manner--all those well-cared-for single-family houses, all those comfort-food restaurants--but had done some amazing things in the way of big-city sophistication too, like bringing the Guthrie Theater to town and establishing the Walker Art Center.

Intelligent Local Pride
But I think I was most struck by the intelligence of the local pride I found here. We Midwesterners can be a touchy lot, swinging from "low self-esteem" to a sort of truculent boosterism--we may not have Carnegie Hall, but by God, we're the good people! Or we struggle to copy the coasts without understanding our own history and traditions at enough depth to feel really self-confident.
In the Twin Cities years ago I found some of that, but also a genuine interest in our own past, in the authenticity of our heritages, exemplified by things like the wonderful old Snoose Boulevard Festival of Scandinavian music on the West Bank, and the Minnesota Historical Society, and an awakening sense of historic preservation, all done with a degree of sophistication and commitment that bowled me over.
In 1991 I moved from New York to Minneapolis/Saint Paul for love--for love of Minneapolis/Saint Paul. 
Years have passed, times have changed, and many a Midwestern city has awakened to its heritage and its potential as a place to nurture the full range of human ambitions and desires. The great cities of our coasts are still magnets for creative people, and they always will be, but increasingly a significant percentage of the best and brightest are staying in vibrant regional cities--or moving to those cities, not just from the hinterland, but from the coasts. The Twin Cities pioneered in this ongoing decentralization of our culture, and I have long been excited to be living in the middle of it.

The Deep End of the Talent Pool
So when I took this job with The Line, I knew I loved the Cities and thought I knew them well. It didn't take me long to discover that I had no idea of the depth of the talent pool here. As the other editors and I scrambled for stories, I realized that it actually may be impossible to count the number of marketing and advertising agencies and design shops here, since several more will have been founded by the time you think you've finished your list.
The same goes for small, or tiny, medical-technology companies. They're tucked away seemingly everywhere, working quietly on amazing esoteric surgery tools or medication-delivery systems.
And then there are the nonprofits! Who can count them? They're involved in everything from avant-garde literature to world hunger to neighborhood revitalization to international justice. They serve us selflessly here at home and are one of the most important ways that we are linked to the wider world--as significant for our sense of being a world city as Walker shows or Jean Nouvel buildings.
I got a deeper taste of the ethnic richness of an area that is often assumed to be a lily-white urban Lake Wobegon. (Note to Garrison Keillor: Even the little Minnesota towns have Latino and Hmong and Somali citizens these days--how about some new characters?) I learned that there are 36 mosques in the Twin Cities, that we have a Latino music venue that's nationally famous, that Burmese form a significant immigrant group in Saint Paul, that candidates for president of Liberia campaign here.

Entrepreneurial Chutzpah
I was talking with my friend Dave Schimke, who edits Utne Reader, a while ago. We got onto what makes the Twin Cities special, and Dave said that for him it was the entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that he thinks is outsize for our size, and more vibrant than in many much bigger places. So many people try so many things here--they start fancy bakeries in quiet neighborhoods. They launch online bike-sharing programs and nationally influential literary presses (three of them!) and unique art-support organizations and all those marketing agencies and med-tech firms. And they just keep doing it, with hope and pride. Editing The Line has brought me into contact with many of these dreamers and doers.
A lot of the things and people that excite me most here are, as we say, below the radar. A New Yorker who has managed to rent a hot-dog cart for the day will self-promote like Donald Trump; a Minnesotan doing amazing things with technology or design or retail is a shyer creature, not given to own-horn-blowing. So it's been a gift and a pleasure to actually be in the business of finding these folks and telling their stories as part of our wider narrative of creative activity in everything from entrepreneurship to neighborhood development to outdoor sculpture.
It's Not Paradise

There are problems and shortcomings to deal with in these good towns and this good state. The achievement gap yawns wide. Startup businesses need more angel investors. Our two cities, our suburbs, and our regions struggle to bury old rivalries and find common ground. Light-rail construction has stirred resentment even as it holds out the promise of a better-connected 21st-century city. At the Capitol the shortsighted politics of fear, greed, and ideological lock-step threaten Minnesota's hallowed self-image as a political community devoted to the common good and to the solid, sustainable prosperity that comes when everyone has a place at the table.

And does every new restaurant here have to offer "sophisticated updates on comfort food?"

But to Get Serious Again...
Here's the thing: people in this city care about one another. From time to time, seized by some kind of warped nostalgia for my earlier career, I've been tempted by the idea of assigning glitzy, Manhattan-y stories about self-absorbed power brokers, conspicuous consumption, fast-lane life. Exciting narcissism, in short. My wonderful freelance writers--talk about a talent pool!--and my editor colleagues don't make that easy for me. They pitch me stories about hip professionals who do all kinds of pro bono work, or help the homeless in Haiti. Entrepreneurs as interested in making life easier and happier in their neighborhoods as in making a dollar. Artists who are healers. Tech whizzes eager to help their potential competitors launch an app.
These people are everywhere here too, and it has been a real privilege, in the past 365, to share their city, and to share something of their vision with you.

Jon Spayde is managing editor of The Line.

Photos: a look back at some of my favorite Bill Kelley portraits of local entrepreneurs, artists, and innovators.

Top to bottom:

Jeremy Nutzman of the avant-hip-hop duo Bight Club

Faheem Uddin Khan at the checkout counter of Little India on Central Avenue, Minneapolis

Kimberly Nightingale, founder/publisher of the Saint Paul Almanac

Josh Klauck of Minneapolis' Angry Catfish Bicycle+Coffee Bar

Lili Hall of the Knock marketing agency, North Minneapolis

Somali radio personality Zuhur Ahmed in the studio at KFAI, Minneapolis

Daithi Sproule, legendary Irish musician (and West Side Saint Paulite)

Nance Derby, owner of Acme Scenic Arts in Saint Paul's West Seventh neiughborhood

All photos by Bill Kelley

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