A Minute in the City 12-24-2020: Walk a Mile in My Neighborhood

Fifteen years ago, I took a job marketing the state of Missouri for new business development.  I toured dozens of towns during my first few years on the job, learning about different industries, universities, and attractions. It was always my goal to be able to highlight the one thing that made each community special, that one word or phrase that captured the very essence of the place. Chillicothe, for example, was the birthplace of sliced bread, and therefore “the best thing since…!” Columbia was College Town, USA. Hannibal was all about Mark Twain.

And then there was St. Louis, which, for all its educational and industrial assets, was primarily known for its 630-foot arch. But St. Louis was also known as a “city of neighborhoods.”

I am reminded of this often as I create art for A YEAR IN THE CITY. I’ll let my feet take me down a new street, around a new block, and come away recognizing that I’ve crossed some kind of invisible boundary. I am now on someone else’s turf, if only as a casual observer. And I love it.

I enjoyed the documentary America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill which debuted as part of The St. Louis International Film Festival this year. But it is the experience of dining and walking through The Hill neighborhood that I find really enriching, knowing that the culture of the Italian immigrants has remained largely intact.

I feel the same way when I walk through University City late on a Saturday alongside orthodox families on their way to temple. Or when I feast on cuisine that is totally new to me along South Grand. Or when I visit Soulard Market with restauranteurs and weekend chefs and casual shoppers standing side by side. Or when I duck onto Washington U’s campus just long enough to share space with citizens of the larger world.

It is my right, I tell myself, to walk alongside others, just so long as I respect them. And if something about them stays with me, if some memory is etched… well then, my universe expands just a little bit.

Like all of you, I will end this year a different person than the one who started it. My feet have taken me down some new streets, around some new blocks. Last week, I walked down Candy Cane Lane and was reminded of my last visit there on foot two years ago. I was finishing up the 2020 calendar at the time and needed some good shots of the sign, the carolers, the giant Santa sculpture. I was standing on the sidewalk with my camera when a homeowner asked if I’d like to see the street from her porch. I thanked her and went up her front steps to take a few pics. But, before I could return to my group, the woman invited me to sit with her for a while.

This struck me, because I’d always imagined it a bit of a drag to actually live on Candy Cane Lane. Every year you’d have to practically kill yourself stringing lights on every gable, then your electric bill would go through the roof. And to top it all off, you’d have people traipsing through your front yard for a solid month. I couldn’t imagine that this woman – or any of her neighbors – would have the energy left to actually engage visitors. I mean, these were real people. This was a real neighborhood. There were boundaries.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not take the woman’s invitation to sit with her that night and watch the goings on down Candy Cane Lane. Rather, I let my rules about neighborhoods dictate how much I was willing to belong to hers. I have since learned that boundaries are only there until both sides are willing to step over them, and that we need each other far too much to ignore the invitation to connect. My hope for St. Louis in the coming year is that it grows from being a “city of neighborhoods” to being a “city of neighbors” as we learn to walk alongside one another in the best of places. This is what St. Louis could be known for.



Candy Cane Lane was the featured subject of my December 2020 calendar page. It is also available as a holiday card and print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com/products. 

A Minute in the City 12-9-2020: Take Note

In 2017, I had a few dozen notecards printed to send retailers who’d agreed to carry my YEAR IN THE CITY calendars. One of those retailers called me the following week to see if I might make the cards available for purchase. Three years later, notecards account for a nice little slice of my business the whole year through. But with notecards, as with everything else, it’s what’s inside that counts. I’d like to thank my customer Valery Welch for sharing her inspiring story of writing notes in the time of COVID. -jm

“I live in a condominium community with many retirees, some of whom live alone and struggle to get outside – even when there’s no pandemic to worry about. Now, some of our retirees are totally isolated, fearful about stepping outside their door to even collect the mail. Not all of us will make it to the other side of this pandemic, whether or not we get COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean we have to be alone.

My heart cannot bear to imagine this degree of utter loneliness, people going through their days thinking no one knows they exist. This summer, I began wondering how I could safely reach out to my neighbors. And then I started writing notes. I ordered cards from A Year in the City with images of St. Louis—Ted Drewes, the Gateway Arch, the Missouri History Museum, Candy Cane Lane. What better way to reach someone than with cheerful and artistic images from the past, with the places we all shared before the pandemic?  In each card, I wrote inspiring quotes, cheering my readers on, letting them know that I believed they could make it, assuring them they were not alone. With each card, I stapled a small bag containing a facemask lanyard that I had made by hand. I just wanted each person to know that someone knew they were there.

So far, I have quietly set out more than 75 cards at my neighbors’ front doors. I do not know their names; they do not know mine. I address the envelope simply, “To my dear neighbor…” I am so grateful to have this beautiful way of reaching out to others.”


VALERY WELCH, BS, is Executive Assistant & Communications Director for Bette J. Welch, CPA. She has experience in marketing communications, rental property development, and neighborhood development and is serving on the board for the Webster Groves/Shrewsbury/Rock Hill Area Chamber of Commerce. Valery also chairs the Architecture Committee for Kenrick Parke Condominium Association and was Past President of the Webster Groves chapter of Toastmasters.

Valery graduated from New Mexico State University with a degree in Earth Sciences/Physical Geography with an emphasis on City and Regional Planning. She is a life member Phi Kappa Phi. Prior to the pandemic, she was a motor scooter and small camper trailer enthusiast, and she played trumpet and emceed for a community concert band. Since the pandemic, she has learned to make hard cider and has become an official urban red wiggler worm farmer!