The op-ed “Loving the Midwest” by Curtis Sittenfeld, sister of Cincinnati City Council Member PG Sittenfeld, got a lot of attention earlier this month after running in the New York Times. While I appreciate the author’s fondness for this region of the country, I have a problem with the article’s premise and its portrayal of the Midwest.
Sittenfeld explains that she and her husband have now accepted their new life in St. Louis, after having lived in larger East Coast cities. They have grown used to the fact that restaurants empty out by 9 p.m., and they now enjoy a life filled with trivia nights, friendly neighbors, short commutes, and convenient parking. “We usually eat dinner about 5:15, and by 9 o’clock I’m getting ready for bed,” she writes.
But what Sittenfeld is actually describing is a combination of suburban life, which could be experienced in any region of the country, and her own personal lifestyle choices. She has done a disservice by equating Midwestern life with the particular way that she has chosen to live.
As a resident of Cincinnati, a city similar to St. Louis in many ways, my life doesn’t have much in common with Sittenfeld’s. Maybe that’s because I live downtown, not in an outer suburb. (To be fair, I don’t know what type of neighborhood Sittenfeld calls home, but the lifestyle she describes sounds more like the suburbs than the urban core.)
The restaurants near me aren’t empty by 9 p.m.; in fact, they’re full on most weeknights. And if I want to stay out late, there are lots of things to do. (There’s nothing wrong with going to bed early, either, but that doesn’t have much to do with the neighborhood or part of the country where you live.)
I’m not trying to claim that Midwestern cities are exactly like Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., two of Sittenfeld’s former homes. We don’t have as many trendy restaurants, music venues, bars, and other late-night activities. And as the author points outs, there are many differences politically and in the way people behave. But that doesn’t mean that the Midwest is a boring, sleepy place where everything shuts down at dusk.
Choosing to live a slower-paced lifestyle is fine. But don’t try to portray the Midwest as a place to retire when you’re done with fast-paced, exciting city life. Because we have that in the Midwest, too.