Sometimes it’s hard to forget cities don’t just appear. Omaha’s office buildings and suburbs, highways and cobblestone sidewalks, are pinpoints of light in a constellation of decisions made year after year, decade after decade, that define a place and the people who live there.
“You know, these houses don’t really belong to us,” said Ryan Reed, who runs East of 72nd, an Instagram account that tells the stories of Omaha’s buildings. “You go down to the courthouse and go to the assessor’s and your name is on the deed, but they belong to the people before us and they belong to the people after us. So it’s kind of like, part of our community and telling the story of our community.”
But when development hits the crossroads of new vs. old, how do we decide what’s worth keeping and what’s worth taking away? Omaha has had to grapple with that question recently with the decision to raze its central public library to make way for a new Mutual of Omaha skyscraper which many in the public fought, unsuccessfully, to stop. It’s a similar fight that’s taken place in other areas of the city like Jobbers Canyon on the city’s riverfront, the largest destruction of historic architecture in the country.
The advantages seem obvious, but what stories, history and opportunities do you lose?
Reporter Chris Bowling drove around with Reed to hear about what he’s learned about that by researching the past of Omaha’s buildings — from historic homes to downtown success stories to a former church with a disturbing past.
Produced by Chris Bowling
Music by Jon Rix (p0h_k https://p0hk.bandcamp.com/)