Soul of the city
It’s the river. In time-honored tradition, locals easily find ways to tease it, to make fun of its color or the ugly tugboats dotting every other mile or even its fickle flooding. They sometimes speak of it as an afterthought because it’s a constant; there’s no need to notice it. But, locals also know that any river is life and the one bounding Little Rock is symbolic of the rush of history and prosperity of the city.
Last month, USA Today published an article naming Little Rock one of the worst places to live in America. No thinking man or woman gives much credence to such lists because the rubric is dumbed down to one dimension.
Ranking any human community based solely on data relegates that community to science when we understand that a large portion of any place is more art than statistic. Certainly, data is important: crime rates, unemployment figures, strength of schools and more. But all of these factors can be whittled down to a simple lyric explaining the feel of a community.
Yes, Little Rock has challenges that seem far too common for midsize cities in America. It has crime, it has stagnant corners that need fixing, it has tension that bubbles underneath the surface. Locals read about abuses to the human spirit within its borders and insist something must be done.
If you live in Little Rock, you have a little river water in your veins and the city’s challenges course through each of us, touching each like capillaries. That’s why the city pulls together to grow, to thrive. Our humanity prevents perfection. Our better angels keep us moving forward nonetheless.
In some phases of my life, I walked sleepily through my relationship with Little Rock, never looking up to notice the beauty and grandeur of living in a midsize Southern city. Other times, I embraced Little Rock fully and yearned for it to reach its understated potential.
Little Rock is home to growing business communities, with some companies acting as decades-old anchors dredging deep in its past and others as startups highlighting the city’s future. Little Rock maintains a highly active outdoor life with the River Trail, thousands of acres of green space, and access to every activity imaginable. Each neighborhood within its boundaries revels in identity, and flourishes when its strength of character is heard.
The feel of Little Rock is evidenced here. It’s Southern. It’s Western. It’s the middle child of America.
But, at its core, Little Rock is a river town that vibrates with the pulse of water rushing through it. It’s a city of life and prosperity. It’s a city that beats itself up when crime statistics go too high or when schools are valued too low or when self-segregation happens and we wonder why. It’s a city that tries again, that digs deep and taps into that wonderful volume of talent and goodness and brings forth success like gold from a stream.
It’s a city where families flourish, and the future holds a solar brightness.
Little Rock is home to breweries and baseball. It reverberates with train horns and primates calling from the zoo. It’s a university town, a farmers market, the seat of government. Little Rock is big enough for opportunity and small enough for lazy conversations on front porches. USA Today, focusing on data, missed the environment, missed the feel.
Little Rock is much more than just the right size or the right dose of country versus city. It’s more than just a climate visited by all four seasons or the easy access to every point on its small map. Instead, it’s the river.
It’s the closeness of a small Southern town blended with the opportunity of a big city all bounded by water. The river—teeming with mud-cats the size of kayaks, screaming river gulls, and thousands of turtles bobbing in the sunlight—is symbolic of life to Little Rock.
The river is a watery monastery, a hum of meditation and freshness. Locals are transfixed by the unseen life beneath the waters and appreciate the quiet force that comes from water moving so effortlessly downstream. At its essence, the city vibrates with the energy of the pulsing water that pushes through it.
This is the quiet energy that Little Rock possesses. It is the pull to something greater.